James Joyce wrote of “an ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia”, exhibiting characteristic Joycean contempt for a reader of limited duration of attention. In this sense, Mathias Enard’s Compass, while eminently accessible, is likely to be best appreciated by those with insomniac intensities, and an equivalent propensity to pursue homologous trains of thought. Franz Ritter, the insomniac musicologist whose consciousness is our sole companion in Compass, as all insomniacs is accustomed to wholly phenomenal interpretation which, as Terry Eagleton wrote, “refuses to be duped by the habitual experience of things, searching instead for the invisible mechanisms which gives birth to them”.
While Compass is greater than its themes, it is essentially a novel of digressions, during which Franz learns that the pursuit of love may demand acts of abnegation. Schubert, Magris, Balzac, Beethoven, Proust, and Mendelssohn are only the lighter cavalry. Enard writes, “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.” Without becoming moralistic, Compass is a political novel that gently analyses Said’s characterisation of Orientalism, not just as a secondary expression of the wonders and apparent evils of the East, but as a form of imperialistic domination that concerns itself with the control of real people and real geographical territories. Enard, like Said, writes to oppose power structures, but unlike, say, Foucault, is at heart hopeful that through discourse such structures can be confronted and dismantled.
In a world that has become afraid of intelligence, Compass – slowly, I imagine, and carefully translated by Charlotte Mandell – is a deeply intelligent novel, a book that I could vanish into forever. In Barcelona, Robert Hughes quotes the Catalan writer Josep Ferrater Mora, “The man with seny [an untranslatable term meaning something like common sense, perhaps also wisdom and intelligence] renounces neither salvation nor experience, and is always trying to set up a fruitful integration between both opposed, warring extremes.” Mathias Enard, on the strength of Compass, but also Zone and Street of Thieves is indisputably a man with seny.
Im purposely keeping this Man Booker International Prize long listed book until late reading (doing the whole 13), knowing I want to finish on a high.
You have a piece of sublime writing awaiting you, Tony.
Have read Zone & Street of Thieves hence waiting
Not up there with ‘Zone’, but a very good book, nonetheless.
A matter of opinion; both are fascinating for their differences and similarities. I prefer Compass.
When I say I was not as passionate about Zone as others may be, reading it in no way put me off Enard. Your preference for Compass bodes well, but here the book is released in hardcover, so I will wait.
Street of Thieves is also very worthwhile.
I absolutely plan to read this. Does it matter if I haven’t read Said? Because I equally plan not to do so.
It doesn’t matter a jot. It would enrich your reading but it is perfectly entertaining without; in a way a primer to Said’s still valid argument about Orientalism.
By Allah! Another book I never heard of to be place on the bucket list for this Spring and Summer, before I vouage to Arabia oin ze Fall. Compas seems to be about some sort of bridge to the Moslem world. I look forward to reading this too, And now, I think I will drink some lemonade.
Compass is a marvel, so rare to read a contemporary, undoubted masterpiece.
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