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Finger of an Angel by Panayotis Cacoyannis. Reviewed by Casey Dorman

Finger of an Angel

By Panayotis Cacoyannis

Reviewed by Casey Dorman


Panayotis Cacoyannis is a master of describing the multiple identities that make up each of us. In each of his novels, both we the reader as well as the main character, struggle with understanding who the character really is. This was most obvious in Bowl of Fruit (1907), in which Jack Faro searched for himself by assuming the identities of others and in The Madness of Grief, where the main character, sixteen-year-old Jane Hareman, was forced to absorb the revelation that her father and his paramour were not who she imagined them to be, a fact which changed her profoundly. In Finger of an Angel, Lily, the protagonist, is aware of her multiple identities. Not only is she a mother of an adult daughter and a widowed wife, she is a sexually free and adventurous sixty-year old who picks up men and allows herself to be picked up by them for gratuitous sex during which both parties conceal their identities. She struggles with keeping her own wildly erratic thoughts under control by relying on “Bella,” a sane and logical alter ego who has been with her for thirty years and speaks to her as a real person.

On a sweltering summer day while driving from a sexual encounter in a secret wood, infamous as a location for trysts, her classic Mercedes’ air conditioning goes awry, baking her in heat and bringing on a hallucinatory aura of an impending migraine. She becomes lost navigating the labyrinthine turns of a narrow road on which she is the only car. Her thoughts begin to wander out of control, only occasionally centered by conversations with the hallucinatory Bella. A fly entering her car is identified as Bella’s muse the angel Ithuriel, then as Tommy, Lily’s son who died at the age of eight. Her husband, Frank’s, voice appears and explains that Tommy’s death was truly an accident, for which he felt guilty, and his own death, by falling in front of a train after a “nudge” from Lily, who wanted him dead, was a suicide on his part. The “devil incarnate” appears in the form of Ben and Darren, two men who try to rape her while her car is stopped, but she is saved by a mysterious stag, who might be the embodiment of Ithuriel, known in  Milton’s poem for revealing the devil’s identity, when it attacks the men, allowing her to flee. All the while, her daughter Gemma is calling her on her dead mobile phone and reprimanding her for her lifestyle. She tells Gemma that she is changing her life because her latest sexual encounter with “Bob” has led to true love.

Throughout Lily’s ordeal we are terrified that Lily will actually come to harm—from a car wreck, a migraine and stroke, a wasp sting (she’s allergic) or from her two attackers, if they are real. Reality is blurred, and we don’t know if she is hallucinating or having a genuine experience. She only arrives home when time begins running backward and she drives back to the turn in the road where she first got lost.

Once home, Lily is no longer alone. Bob, her new love takes her to dinner, Patrick, a former sexual partner and neighbor rescues her from his younger brothers (who resemble Ben and Darren in their behavior), Gemma announces that she’s married Noah and they both come to visit. Lily, and the reader, must straighten all the perceptions and experiences out to determine what is real and what is not as Lily faces real relationships that have to be evaluated.  Each of the other characters reveals him or her self to not be exactly who Lily imagined them to be either. 

This is a marvelous mixture of fantasy, of examination of someone’s psychological interior, and of the many sides that make up a person. For Lily, as for most of us, some of the sides of her personality are ones she doesn’t want to face and some represent efforts to escape them. Lily is complex, but more to the point of a novel, she is entertaining. The story is entertaining, with Lily expressing herself with wit in the direst of circumstances and the situations described with symbolism, artistic metaphors and humor. Cacoyannis is able to peel away the layers of his characters’ personalities in a way that few writers can. This makes his novels difficult to put down and the reader eager to pick them up and continue the fascinating story as we learn more and more of the characters’ inner secrets. 

In what now is an unbroken sequence of brilliant novels, Finger of an Angel more than holds it own respected place.

Finger of an Angel is available on Amazon




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