Compass by Mathias Enard
Original title – Boussole
Translator – Charlotte Mandell
Source – review copy
Well strange I did my round-up and book of the month for february yesterday .I am sure unless something unexpected comes along this will be March’s book of the month only a day in . This is the third novel by Mathias Enard I have read and for me this is his best . It won the Prix Goncourt in 2015. Mathias Enard studied Persian and Arabic and has spent long periods in the Middle east . This is his tenth novel
Sarah found that pharse extraordinary, “Take me, lead me where you like ; I won’t bother you, I sleep all day, in the evening you can let me go to the concert and at night you can do what you like with me ” a declaration of absolute beauty and despair, a total nudity – unlike Liszt , I know where she is buried , the montmatre cemetery. Which Sarah showed me
sarah quotes Marie Duplessis Liszt’s mistress and a woman who inspired Alexander Dumas .
The last but one sentence of the intro is the key to what this book is about simply Enard is a huge fan of the Middle east and this book is his ode to the way us in the West and the east mix together . I’m now not sure what we call this area the middle east or as Nawai El Saadawi who’s middle east , the Wests middle east ! so from the middle west here is my view of this wonderful book . Then we have the term Orient the older term which is the one Enard seems to prefer . Anyway the Arab speaking world and How Enard has chosen to show us this west and east struggle via Franz Ritter a Austrian musicologist who over the space of one late night and early morning suffering with a bout of insomnia he recalls his frequent trips to this part of the work . so from Istanbul to Tehran and place like Aleppo and Damascus we follow Franz but also Sarah a spirited french woman like Franz caught between west and east. SO as the night goes on the arc of the relationship maybe also arcs the relationship of west and east . Like the point of a compass this book points east to the heart of Arab world and an affair that was doomed but also the clashing of the west and east how the west has viewed the east through music , art and literature and how these have been tinged by the East from Franz Liszt to Agatha Christie the east has touch many artists and their works .
The debate became stormy ; Sarah had mentioned the great name, the wolf had appeared in the midst of the flock , in the freezing desert: Edward Said .It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent ; Bilger , horrified at the idea that he could be associated with any kind of Orientalism, immediately began embarrassed auto criticism, renouncing everything : Francois-marie and julie were nuanced on the question, while still acknowledging that Said had asked a burning but pertinent question : the relationship between knowledge and power in the Orient
Said one of the main names you connect with Orientalism
Well as you see this book is one that it is easy to fall in love with it is one of the novels that you will also need a note-book and maybe Spotify hand to listen to the music mentioned and the books mentioned. So as we see Franz wrestle with on coming sleep and the dreams to remember the good and bad times of the relationship. This is also an ode to that lost world his times in Aleppo , which is now a smoking ruined city instead we see the Aleppo that drew people there before the war . We get a sense of a past that isn’t there now a time when the world wasn’t so tense in this Joycean evening of vivid dreams of a long past relationship and world .