RAD Book Club review: Cartes Postales from Greece

25 Oct 2017

Book Club met last Tuesday to discuss Cartes Postales from Greece, a collection of short stories set in Greece by romantic fiction novelist Victoria Hislop.

Ellie Thomas is a young, single woman bored of her job and finding London life lonely, who starts receiving postcards from Greece sent to her flat addressed to an ‘S. Ibbotson’. Ellie decides to travel to Greece herself, attracted by the life that the writer – identified only as ‘A’- seems to lead and by the beauty displayed in the postcards. On the very morning that she leaves for the airport, a parcel arrives: a manuscript of diary entries addressed to S. Ibbotson, which Ellie takes with her. The stories in the diary have been told to ‘A’ by locals that he has met and form the main body of the novel, interspersed with photos of Greece.

The group was split between those who liked and those who disliked the book but actually everyone found some aspect to enjoy; the flavour of Greece which the stories and postcards evoked; the simple language and predictable romantic plot which made this book an effortless and pleasant read, a particular story or theme that resonated, or even just the pictures. Whereas some of us appreciated the pictures of ‘typical’ Greek scenes which illustrated the text, others questioned their relationship to the narrative and some members actively disliked the inclusion of images, believing them to serve as an excuse not to develop the writer’s craft. Most of us felt that Ellie and A(nthony) were not fleshed out as characters. Although the book provides plenty of minutiae about their lives, we were in doubt about Ellie’s motivation (was it boredom?) and we had the impression no real change occurs in her as a character.

We learn early in the book that S. Ibbotson jilted Antony at the airport on the way to Greece, which prompted him to send all of the postcards and the subsequent manuscript, but we felt uneasy about what seemed to us emotional blackmail and an inability to move on. Even once we discovered the story behind the breakup, which Hislop has tantalised us with throughout the book, we were still unsure about Anthony’s intentions.

Discussing the structure of the novel, we agreed that the first chapter set a very clear direction which motivated the reader to find out about A. and which drove us through all the stories. We all would have liked to have heard more of Ellie’s own voice, which is absent throughout most of the book, she is just a vehicle to allow us to read the stories. We felt slightly disappointed at the final scene, which someone even described as an anti-climax. In that last scene, we finally meet Anthony and Ellie has the opportunity to start a new chapter in her life.

Without a doubt, what we liked the most were the stories; ‘Air on a G string’, ‘Laterna, poverty and honour’, ‘Holy Water’, ‘Lead us not into temptation’, ‘Never on a Tuesday’, ‘Man on a mountaintop’ and ‘Honeymoon’ and ‘In Love with Love’ are among those that we remembered (there are A LOT of stories which caused some readers to struggle to continue). We felt that superficially the stories give us an ‘authentic’ taste of Greece as a tourist destination, but on closer inspection we found them to be closer to urban legends, offering a commentary on the darkness beneath Greek history and traditions. The tone of the tales is often dark, grim or melancholic, in contrast to the beauty and liveliness of the postcards.