Review of The Love of Impossible Sums by Panayotis Cacoyannis

The Love of Impossible Sums

By Panayotis Cacoyannis

Reviewed by Casey Dorman

With some major exceptions, such as Graham Greene, John LeCarre, or  Raymond Chandler, we often have to choose between reading a literary novel or a suspense novel. While Panayotis Cacoyannis’ The Love of Impossible Sums is not a spy thriller or a detective novel, it manages to be a literary gem that contains all the suspense of a good thriller. In this case, the suspense involves mystery — how does a character know what she seems to know?— and the fate of a relationship — whose, if anyone’s, affection and loyalty will survive the impact of the constant revelations that threaten to destroy them?

Cacoyannis’ literary talents are displayed on nearly every page of the novel, but especially in his descriptions of London : “In the main road far ahead, traffic moves like brushstrokes of illumination that sweep across an ever-changing canvas with a rhythm as irregular as my own heartbeat.” Like the sculptor that he also is, Cacoyannis makes simple objects come alive: “Painted cast iron columns, with intricately moulded capitals, frame the entrance to an enormous lift. The metal grills of its sliding scissor gate open like a concertina, to an interior buzzing with a constant phosphorescence, an ooze of yellow luminosity that sounds almost radioactive.”

Within the gentle wrappings of such picturesque language the central characters, which might be two, Ollie and Alex, but are really six members of an ensemble cast including the two of them and Claw, a female physician, her ex-husband, Sigismund, and his partner, William, and Claw’s current husband, Patrick. They’ve all mixed and matched in the past and as Ollie and Alex explore their own relationship, the past and current activities of the others continually intrude and reveal connections that Ollie, especially, never imagined.

At the center of the story is Ollie’s struggle with the loss of his wife, Eden, three years earlier, and his promise to her that he would find happiness and not be deterred in doing so by her loss. When happiness with Alex, who lost her husband a year previously, seems imminent, Ollie cannot fully overcome the guilt he feels for moving  on past his grief. His struggle is compounded by Alex’s eerie familiarity with his plight, which gradually becomes a revelation of how her own loss of her husband, Sam, involved nearly all the others who also populated Ollie’s and Eden’s life.

The story weaves in and out, and the emotions Ollie feels and are often echoed by either Alex or other members of their group, are presented so convincingly that they seem real to the reader. Ollie and Alex try to support a relationship that both of them seem barely ready to enter and they are exquisitely tender, careful and caring toward the other. It is a sweet story, but one with an undercurrent of suspicion about whether their relationship is real or a substitute for the one that each of them lost.

It’s difficult to imagine that an entire novel could almost completely revolve around a brief, but deep and emotional encounter between two people, but it does, and it does so in a way that captivates and pulls the reader into the consciousness of Ollie and the agony of resuming a life after losing the most important thing in it. I was so far drawn into the story that I regretted every time I had to put it down and looked forward to picking it up again to continue. The Love of Impossible Sums is a wonderful, emotional novel. I recommend it to everyone.

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