Behind the Counter at Literary Flits
Behind The Counter by Constantina Rebi
First published in Greek in Greece by Quest Publications in 2015. English language translation published by Quest Publications in June 2016.
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The novel “Behind the Counter” is an effort to describe our times. The uncertainty and the fear of the present and the future. People who live in a surrounding of moral and financial crisis, trying to survive. Two women, who are friends and colleagues, describe their lives in dialogues. Between the dialogues there are descriptions of their colleagues, their behaviour and the effort to adjust in the cruel environment of a strict hierarchy. There are ironic metaphors in the text, as an effort to explain the cruelty, injustice and death.
Behind The Counter is a novella of about a hundred pages which illustrates the rapidly declining living standards of ordinary people in austerity-struck Greece. We see Athens through the eyes of a bank clerk, her friends and colleagues, and are gradually more aware of their fragile circumstances as the book progresses. I liked Rebi's device of only naming each character with an initial. This allowed me to have some remembrance of each person, but also meant I wasn't limited to imagining them as definite characters. Each of these worried people could be any one of us reading the book and the financial similarities between the Greek and UK economies at the moment meant I felt Behind The Counter resounds with what I see here as accurately as with Rebi's Athens.
I think stark contrasts made Behind The Counter particularly striking for me. Short chapters are each relatively mundane co-worker conversations, but as the bank staff discuss meeting targets, the machinations of the Rising Star, or what they saw on TV, outside their windows children are jumping onto moving rubbish lorries in the hope of salvaging a discarded pair of flip-flops while equally desperate adults rip cables from railway lines. The combination creates a graphic portrayal of a teetering society and the sense of it just being a matter of time before everyone is dragged down makes for compelling reading.