Zone by Mathias Enard
Original title – Zone
Translator – Charlotte Mandell
Source – review copy
There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer…”
Well I was aware of this book from when it came out in the US from Open letter books a few years ago ,it was on my list of books to buy in London at some point .So when new UK publisher Fitzcarraldo editions (You have to instantly love a publisher that call themselves after a Werner Herzog film haven’t you ) were publishing this as one of their first two titles ,I was pleased to get sent a copy of this and their other title the memory theatre which I have also read and shows a publisher boldly mixing challenging fiction with cutting edge non-fiction .Mathias Enard is a french writer who currently lives in Spain ,he has published eight books so far this is one of two to be translated into English .This book won the Prix de Livre inter and the Prix Decembre in France .It has been called the book of the new century by one french reviewer .
I read Tsirkas drifting cities ,without really understanding it ,without recognizing in the scheme of the shadowy figures in his pages my own steps as an international informant .
I choose this small quote as an example of books mention in the novel which they are many ,this book is one I really want to get my hands on and read myself !
Zone is the story of a train journey taken by one man Francis Mirkovic he works for the French intelligence service ,he is travelling from Milan to Rome on a train .But the journey just forms a backbone to the book a Francis nears his final gold which is to deliver a briefcase of files on the activities of people with in the Zone ,now the zone is a region from Spain to Lebanon and from former Yugoslavia to north Africa .Now this book is set twenty years ago and uses the Balkan conflict as a springboard to an alternate reality in the past one where the conflict span out of control and drew in the surrounding areas from Palestine to north Africa ,making a lawless region full of arms dealers and petty warlords .Well Francis has the worst of these people in his files and is willing to sell them to the highest bidder .As the train moves through Italy we see through Francis thought how this all happened the unravelling the past distant and far distant ,books upon books from the Iliad (a book this is compared too given its journey and drifting nature ) , true incidents in the 90’s ,his own family history his mother was Croatian ,so he was involved from the start in the unravelling of the Zone .Does he sell the case and what will happen when he does ?
I burrowed into The Zone without passion but also without disgust, with an increasing curiosity about the dealings of the wrathful gods ,patiently in my armoured tent .
Another passage how he got drawn in by The zone .
Now as you can tell this book is one of what I call a snake of a book twisting turning and can always rear up and bite you and I was bitten this is a book that deserves a wider readership ,to show what we may be have been missing in recent years in English language literature .Now I must admit the first writer that came to mind when reading this book was Burroughs ,easily because naked lunch is set in a fictitious area roughly North Africa called the Interzone by Burroughs .But also the way Enard twists the recent past to make an Alternate past is something Burroughs frequently did in his books my favourite Burroughs book cities of red nights is rather like this book twisting through time using the real and surreal to draw a character through the past .Pynchon of course is another writer ,but all said and done these have all been mentioned in other reviews what else can I say about this book ? Well I look back through all the french novels I have reviewed through this blog 43 books a good slice of French fiction in the last few years to find if this is a one-off or if I had touched any book similar in style to this book and yes partly Where the tigers are at home sprung of the blog another twisting novel that mixes past and present real and surreal although different in a lot of respects both show that french publishers seem more willing to take chances on long books both weight in at over 500 pages ,plotless books both have vague plots but are more formed of stories within stories twists within twists ,both have won prizes in France this shows maybe the way forward with the girl is a half-formed thing sounding like a similar style of book to these where plot and the everyday convention of what we view as a novel is thrown out of the window for books that challenge and draw us in as readers .would you like to see more challenging books coming out in English like this one ? Also must admit I love the homage in the cover to Joyce’s ulysses original cover .