The Figurine by Victoria Hislop

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The Figurine by Victoria Hislop

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: There's a robust trade in historical artefacts stolen archaeological sites. An utterly compelling story set mainly in Greece. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: September 2023
Publisher: Headline Review
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1472263933

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It was in 1968 that Helena McCloud made her first trip to Greece. She was alone: her mother, Greek by birth, had left the family home and refused to return, but Mary and Hamish (Helena's parents) felt that it would be a pity if Helena grew up without knowing her grandparents or understanding her Greek heritage. Her trip to the family apartment in up-market Kolonaki would be the first of several annual visits. She grew to love her grandmother and the family's maid, Dina, but was wary - and frightened - of her grandfather, retired general Stamatis Papagiannis. He was proud of his close connections to the Junta and expected his family to uphold his values but saw no reason to accommodate them. His prejudices included Helena's red hair and green eyes - inherited from her father's Scottish ancestors.

At the end of her third year at Oxford, Helena encountered charismatic Nick Hayes-Jones: the attraction was instant and mutual. It led to her joining him on a dig on an Aegean island. Particularly treasured as artefacts (by both archaeologists and looters) are Cycladic figurines. Many years after first going to Greece, Helena inherits her grandparents' apartment. It's difficult not to be reminded of her grandfather's close connections with the cruel military regime. Questions arise when she discovers a vast range of antiquities and valuable objects. What human price was paid for them - and how can matters be put right?

Victoria Hislop's love of Greece shines through every page of this book. She has a particular talent for bringing to life the tumultuous events of the second half of the twentieth century. In the late nineteen-sixties, I wanted to take my daughter to Athens, but the political situation put me off. Finally, in 1973, we went. Athens was slightly uneasy but elsewhere, getting tourism back on track seemed to matter more than politics. As I stood in the departure lounge at the airport, I felt we would return soon. A week later, had we stood in the same spot, we would have been in the middle of a massacre. No - Greece was not safe. As I read about 1973 in The Figurine, I was back there in the dusty streets of Athens, out on the coast and lamenting the fact that Greece could always break my heart.

The plot is excellent. I knew what I wanted to happen and Hislop delivers a story that's satisfying but never predictable. It takes real skill to combine a compelling story with real events and to bring both off the page in such a convincing way. I never sensed that history had been revised to suit the story. The characters help, of course. They have subtlety and depth.

I've found an additional pleasure in this book. I usually find myself waiting for my favourite authors to write their next book but this is my first Hislop. She has a back catalogue which I am going to thoroughly enjoy. I'd like to thank the authors for letting Bookbag have a review copy.

If The Figurine appeals, we think you might also enjoy The Hidden by Tobias Hill.

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