The Grief Almanac A Sequel by Vana Manasiadis
Wellington: Seraph Press (2018)
RRP: $30. Pb, 110pp
Reviewed by S J Mannion
Vana Manasiadis is a Greek-New Zealand writer, translator and teacher. This is her second collection. The first, Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, was also published by Seraph Press, in 2009. She has also collaborated widely and variously on a number of literary projects, in translating and editorial roles.
‘Ekphrasis’ … well, I can honestly say this is the first time I have had the opportunity to use this word. I am an educated women but my life doesn’t often grant the ‘context’ for such erudition and context as we all know is everything. This is a serious book, in the corporeal and the spiritual sense, I think. It’s a striking creation. The cover, brought the work of the artist Gordon Waters to my mind. The aesthetic, direct, uncompromising, almost fierce, a warrior pattern. Paper, thick and smooth, folded in on itself. It demands your attention. As does the writing. There is no let up here. Reading this feels almost confrontational.
‘… are you there and where and where under the stones and the granite down the misjudged under alleys the thick coating of your hiding …’ (‘These Are The Places I’ve Looked For You’, p. 9)
There is also a challenge in this. One I kept coming back to. This is not an easy book to read. It is cerebral, complex, complicated, even the print seems ‘difficult’. Those spiky clever Greek letters, architectural and somehow sobering. The way she places the words on the page, the orchestrated spaces and punctuation. Symphonic. Structured.
‘Which is to say: I watch your softening pace which is to feel
Your pulse, an accident under my fingertips.’
(‘Study Of Spaces And Of Filling Them’, p. 23)
This precise mathematic yet meandering method of story-telling, echoes the minotaur and his maze. (as does the cover) You watch your step. It is exacting, exiting, exulting. A process of reading become ‘deciphering’. Break the code. Hear the cadence. There is an abstruse love story told over 3 separate and individual pages, a disparate trinity, a divided triptych. A triumph.
‘What was it about our combination? We followed routes that could just as easily have led over cliffs …’ (‘The Sharing Of Atoms’, p. 38)
The same method with ‘Catalogue Of 40 Days’, of Lenten length, a furious lament, and an esoteric acknowledgment of her mothers’ life and death, told over 14 pages – a breadcrumb trail of grief.
‘Because I’m leaving too, the me you knew, the me I knew with you: the salty, chary, guilty me who’d have to call you back … Your nakedness was a shock Mama, your confession superhuman.’ (‘Catalogue Of 40 Days’, p. 74)
Isn’t that what it is like to lose a loved one? You also lose the person you were with them and to them. It is a stripping away, a shock, a new nakedness. A confession.’ A beautiful, intricate, way to speak of love and loss and the knowledge of another.
This is an astonishing book, really. On reading it, in one sitting, I felt as though I had plugged myself into something charged and had been shocked onto a different ‘wavelength’. For the duration of the read, I felt my mind to be a more agile encompassing elastic thing than I have felt for some time. I’ve never read anything quite like it. I wrestled with it, wrenched out meanings, it was a stationary odyssey.
S J Mannion is an Irish writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. When she can she writes. When she can’t she reads. In between she ukuleles. She is published widely and variously, Ireland, the U. K., New Zealand, Australia and the US.