Victoria Hislop has no connection with Greece through any ancestors or family. Yet she speaks the language, has written a number of books set there and has two homes in the country. She is also Greek Orthodox and decidedly comfortable with her choice of church now. Her love affair with Greece started when she visited as a teenager, and the fever has not left her since. She has completely internalised the country through her works.
In her latest novel, Those Who Are Loved, she explores what it is like to have lived a long life as a woman through modern Greece’s most tumoultous era. On her 90th birthday, the protagonist, Themis, casts her mind back to her youth. From the 1930s on, she tells her grandchildren about her story, alongside those of her siblings. Hislop portrays her as an ‘atypical Greek woman’. She writes from experience too, as her own grandmother was instrumental in her upbringing.
As she talks about the characters, it is evident that she strikes a balance. Two of her characters, older siblings, are Nazi sympathisers. The book is set on a now uninhabited island, Makronisos, which served as a political prison camp. It is intriguing that Hislop has picked on a part of Greek history that remains largely unexplored. During this time, there is the War, a Civil War, the rise of Communism in the face of the far right, and also leading to the military Junta. She talks also about the circles of life and death in her book, effectively identified by host James Runcie. She explains in great detail how the Greeks deal with grief and how they mourn their loved ones.
It is a mother’s mourning her son, that lead to a poem being written in 1936, that gave Hislop the title of her book. Themis too experiences much loss, we are told. And through this circle of life and death Hislop hopes to present her story as the ebb and flow of tides. Most of her books double up as excellent travel reads, despite their backdrops being violent. This book, however, and an audience member points it out, seems darker than her usual. But fans of her style are many, and the main tent at the festival is packed to the hilt. No doubt they will be queueing up to buy Those Who Are Loved.