Ian Colford’s Reviews > The Birthday Party

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The Birthday Party by Panos Karnezis

Read in February 2018

3 of 5 stars

In The Birthday Party, Panos Karnezis imagines the life of a Greek shipping magnate named Marco Timoleon (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Aristotle Onassis). The main action takes place over a single day. In his seventies, the still vigorous Timoleon is throwing a party to celebrate his daughter Sofia’s 25th birthday. This extravagant and gaudy event is set to unfold at his secluded estate on his private Greek island, with a massive cake imported from Vienna, a 21-piece orchestra, and a guest list that includes family, friends, and an assortment of rich, famous and notorious individuals from all over the world. However, the reader soon learns that Timoleon, a man long accustomed to getting what he wants, has arranged the party with a darker agenda in mind. In order to fully set the scene, Karnezis employs lengthy flashbacks to tell the tale of how Marco Timoleon overcame his humble origins in Izmir, Turkey and, over a decade or so of ups and downs in fortune, turned innate curiosity, ruthless opportunism, a talent for taking risks, and a fearless habit of re-inventing himself to suit the fluid circumstances of a fast-moving lifestyle, into a shipping empire spanning the globe—and, in the process, became the richest man in the world. Loving the spotlight while loathing the scrutiny that it brings, Timoleon moulds himself into a legendary force of nature, feared by competitors and subordinates alike, cruel and even violent when crossed, friend of the rich and powerful, but emotionally distant from those he loves the most. An insatiable philanderer, he cannot stay faithful to one woman for long, and both his marriages—to Miranda, who dies young, and to Olivia, who is invited to the party—deteriorate into animosity and estrangement. As a young man, Marco Timoleon learns what it takes to be successful on a grand scale. But, not surprisingly, this success comes at a cost, and late in his life he bears a burden of many regrets, the chief of which is the death of his son Daniel, who was killed while piloting his small plane in bad weather. Too late, he discovers that having money does not mean he can control his own destiny or that of others. Despite his bad behaviour and the fact that most of his problems are self-inflicted, Timoleon remains the focus of the reader’s sympathy. Undeniably, the novel suffers from its reliance on flashbacks to fill in the blanks, which creates a kind of stop-start rhythm that over the course of the book becomes somewhat monotonous. However, The Birthday Party remains a suspenseful, entertaining and often brilliant novel that provides a window into the life of a man who, by means both legitimate and underhanded, accumulates inordinate wealth but fails to locate the key to happiness.