Compass by Mathias Enard

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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 .

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Street of thieves by Mathias Enard

Street of thieves by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Rue des voleurs

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

The moon is in the gutter
And the stars wash down the sink
I am the king of the blues
I scrape the clay off my shoes
And wade down the gutter and the moon

The moon blinds my eye with opal cataracts
As I cut through the saw-mills and the stacks,
Leaping over the gully where I would one day take Lucy
Then wash up my hands in the gutter and the moon.

I choose a very old Nick Cave song The moon is in the Gutter because maybe Lakhdar is in the gutter but there is the moon there to see .

Another from Fitzcarraldo edition today their second book from the s=rising star of French Literature Mathias enard.A s you may recall earlier this year our shadow IFFP jury called in his first book in english Zone to the shadow longlist we felt so strongly it was one of the best books from last year, so no high hopes for this one hey !Mathias Enard studied Arabic and Persian at university, he then went on to spend fifteen years living in Barcelona and most recently he spent a year in Germany living in Berlin.

The rest of our catalogue was more expensive, 9.90 per book. These are bound books, usually in several volumes, heavy as a dead donkey. The collection was entitles The heritage of Islam and was made of reprints of works by classical authors: Lives of the prophet, commentaries on the Koran, works of fhoetoric , theology, grammar. Since these mammoth works had beautiful imitation-leather bindings in coloured calligraphy, they were used mostly to decorate the neighbourhood’s living and dining rooms.

The shop he worked run by Sheik Nreddin selling books and doing their websites .

Street of thieves is the story of one young boys life as he journeys from Tangiers to Barcelona. Lakhdar the boy in question is on the verge of becoming a man and we see the world through his eyes. He is in Tangiers just as the Arab spring starts, we see how the system has kept the youth down, and why him and all his friends look to the other side of the Mediterranean. Lakhdar tries to find his place escape a violent home life to sell books then work on a ferry and then eventually he arrives in Europe and to the city of Barcelona and the Street of thieves a notorious area of the city for pickpockets this is a journey of a boys awakening to a man but also a trip from Africa to Europe and the contrast between the real and the dreams of the journey.

I opened the little safe with help of a key shaped like a cross, it contained a number of papers that had nothing to do with me, and almost five thousands euros in cash. I was becoming a thief. I had enough to live on for a while in Barcelona or elsewhere. The money of the dead that’s kind of idiotic thing I said to myself. Of course there was the police. I had left my fingerprints everywhere , even on the bottles of poison, I was the king of dunces.

Lakhdar is driven to steal for his new world in Europe .

I actually loved this more than the zone this book is one of those that captured the Zeitgeist the way it was to be in the North African Arab world as the Arab spring broke. But he also captures a young boys journey from Boyhood to manhood a sense of broken dreams , false hopes but also find friends and people in the same places and world as yourself. Of course because Lakhdar has read many books in his time we see the way the books have crafted his view of the world. I find it strange this has been heralded as one of the first novels of what happened with the Arab spring Enard is no doubt a rising star (recent events have shown he has ambition ) of French literature.I feel there are two great ways a writer becomes a great writer that is write similar books but make them seem different or write great books with different voices I put Enard in the Later this is different from Zone the same place the greater Mediterranean so to speak but more ground in now than the Zone .

Have you read Enard ?

Zone by Mathias Enard

zone_cover

Zone by Mathias Enard

French fiction

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…”

William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch This caught me as a perfect summation of this book .

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 .

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