Compass by Mathias Enard


Compass by Mathias Enard

French fiction

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 .

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Mar 02, 2017 @ 17:31:19

    High praise indeed, Stu – sounds like a fascinating read.


  2. Lisa Hill
    Mar 02, 2017 @ 23:25:16

    I thought I had this one because the cover’s the same as another one I have by Enard, but no.
    I must admit that I liked the term ‘Orient’ which has transitioned into The Middle East in my lifetime, but I think that the people who live there ought to come up with their own name for where they live. But since they don’t seem to agree with each other about anything, and seem incapable of uniting to solve any of their problems, I don’t see a name change happening any time soon.


  3. Max Cairnduff
    Mar 03, 2017 @ 10:32:50

    Sounds excellent Stu.

    Now you’ve a little distance from it, I heard some say that Street of Thieves wasn’t as good as Zone or Compass. Do you have a thought on that?

    Is the region in question what used to be called the Levant? I don’t see that term used any more, but it seems somehow relevant to Enard.


  4. 1streading
    Mar 05, 2017 @ 19:42:48

    I still haven’t read anything other than Zone. Hopefully this will be on the Man Booker International Long list and so force me to read it!


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  6. R.F.Hunt
    Mar 27, 2017 @ 16:54:25

    Reading this now, thanks for your review as it made me choose this book over George Saunders ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’. 👍🏽


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March 2017


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