Kiriakos Gialenios was born in Thessaloniki in 1978. His first novel H νόσος των εραστών [Lovers disease] (Melani Editions, 2011) was shortlisted for the State Literary Award for Debuting Author in 2012 and the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation Award for New Writers in 2011. His second book titled Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα [Only dead fish follow the flow] was published in 2015 (Psichogios Publications).
Kyriakos Gialenios spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest book Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα, which, “within two parallel, seemingly unconnected, and yet tied by an invisible thread, stories” combines crime fiction, poetry and a noir atmosphere. He comments on intertextuality as a conscious decision on his part, while he mentions that for him literature is “a vast field of plays and emotions, an ark of genres, techniques, arts and experimentations, through which we can express every aspect of our world, overt or hidden”.
Asked about the imprint of Thessaloniki, a city of great cultural interest, on his work, he notes that in his books, “the city has more of a spectral presence; it constitutes the negative on which the landmarks and the places are only faintly imprinted and it rests with the reader to make the connection between the imaginary and the real". He concludes that “in times of crisis and turmoil, art constitutes both a shelter and a way out; not just for artists themselves but also for those who are called as viewers, readers or listeners, to become participants in whatever form of artistic creation”.
Your latest book Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα seems to combine crime fiction, poetry and a noir atmosphere. Tell us a few things about the book.
I will start with something more or less commonplace. We write the books we want to read. Structured and written the way we want, incorporating as many influences and obsessions we may have. Thus, within two parallel, seemingly unconnected, and yet tied by an invisible thread, stories I try to fit poetry, crime fiction and a noir atmosphere. In places described but never named, through characters that always hide more that what they reveal, with love pulling the strings and settling on fates and lives, in an era when cynicism and irony seem to prevail over sensitivity; in this framework, the book is an effort to capture the most intense human instincts, positive and negative.
The book seems to converse not only with your first book H νόσος των Εραστών but with classic works of literature as well. Was this intertextuality a conscious decision on your part?
Both intertextuality and the connection to the first book Η νόσος των εραστών were conscious decisions from the very beginning. The two novels may of course stand on their own; there is no interdependence, just that sense so eloquently expressed in the saying: Nothing is real, everything is permitted. Literature constitutes for me a vast field of plays and emotions, an ark of genres, techniques, arts and experimentations, through which we can express every aspect of our world, overt or hidden.
The heroes of your book all have ‘exotic’ names, while the titles of the various chapters are quite pretentious. What purpose do both choices serve?
The titles of the chapters are predominant elements of the text. Whenever I read a book divided in such a way, I try to discover what the title refers to, and this, in turn, defines the context of the specific chapter. Thus, on my part, I try to condense into a single sentence the sense and content of each chapter. Let’s say it acts as a point of reference as to what the reader is to expect in the following ten to twenty pages.
As for the names, in an environment where nothing is named and all situations are on the verge of an infinite dystopia, I felt that the naming of the characters should adhere to the atmosphere of the book. Thus, I avoided any relation to the Greek environment, aiming at the same time at dissuading the reader from identifying with familiar faces and situations.
The book takes place in a town and a country that are not specifically defined, while the word “crisis”, though never mentioned, is constantly implied. Would you say that the book describes the end of a collapsing world and the beginning of a new one that is struggling to be born?
I tried to approach the modern era through the daily lives of the characters, which have, however, been defined to a great extent by how things were prior to the crisis. There comes a moment when they are called to face up to the exaggerations and the decisions they made at a time when they felt invulnerable and mistakenly believed that Fate is a pet that can always be put on a leash. In any case, the book seems to balance on the verge of a before and an after, at that critical moment when the characters all realize that their lives will never be the same, even if they don’t really know what is in store for them right after the next turn.
What has been the imprint of Thessaloniki, a city of great cultural interest, on your work?
Undeniably Thessaloniki is a huge melting pot of peoples, religions and cultural influences that go centuries back. In this respect, it can act as a fascinating canvas for artists to create their micro-cosmos. As for my books, the city has more of a spectral presence; it constitutes the negative on which the landmarks and the places are only faintly imprinted and it rests with the reader to make the connection between the imaginary and the real. What I try to convey through the pages of my books is maybe the city’s atmosphere, which I consider ideal for noir novels.
“Art is a fantastic journey into a world where anything can happen and mostly all can be forgotten. This timeless escape from normality acquires even more importance when in crisis”. What is the role art is called to play in times of crisis?
I insist that in times of crisis and turmoil, art constitutes both a shelter and a way out; not just for artists themselves but also for those who are called as viewers, readers or listeners, to become participants in whatever form of artistic creation. For that short or long period of time they choose to “travel” with their imagination or with the talent of the artist as their vehicle, they opt for an escape from the everyday routine and the roughness of the daily survival.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou