I’m still in time to post for this challenge hosted by Lizzy and Kaggsy which runs throughout February. This month I have read two books by independent publishers – both translations. They are Compass by Mathias Enard (Fitzcarrado Editions) and Stone in a Landslide by Maria Balbar, published by Peirene Press.
Compass, Mathias Enard. Translated by Charlotte Mandel. Fitzcarraldo Editions
“ This should be the time for prayer, the time to open the Horologion, the Book of Hours, for those still awake and to pray: Lord have pity on those like me who have no faith and await a miracle they won’t be able to see…”.
But Franz isn’t praying, he’s obsessed over his memories. This book must have been a huge endeavour: erudite, intellectual, learned – the whole nine yards. It’s a very Fitzcarraldo book, typical of the type of work they tend to publish. That is clever, deep and deeply clever writing – not quite stream of consciousness but with echoes of that, entire pages sometimes devoted to a single paragraph.
As for the plot, Franz Ritter is a musicologist living in Vienna. He has fallen victim to an some unspecified illness and lies sleepless in his bed looking back feverishly over his life in the course of a single night. His musings particularly relate to a woman called Sarah – another academic and fiercely intelligent woman who he has obviously loved but who was never quite Franz’s girlfriend. The ‘action’ as it were reels around from Vienna to London, from France to Tehran, Damascus and Palmyra via China and Tibetan Buddhism. But this is not really a book that concerns itself with action; instead it is comprised of memories; fractured historical musings, dreams and the sort of worries and obsessions when illness is combined with a sleepless night.
Some of this book I loved; the prose is exceptional and I loved the sections on musicology. When he starts talking about Wagner, Mendelsohn, Berlioz – the lives of the composers. Those were the bits I enjoyed most. (“The best thing to come out of Wagner was Mahler!”).
Then again, some of it was just too dark. I had to skip the sections relating to jihadi decapitations! I wasn’t even sure why they were there or what it achieved. We are told the narrator was in Tehran between 1977 and 1981 and got caught up in the Revolution and the beginning of the Iran/Iraq war. Such ghastly experiences he obviously needed to pass on in graphic detail.
Enard studied Persian and Arabic and spent much time in the Middle East and we are left in no doubt that he knows what he’s talking about. There were occasions though when I wasn’t sure that I did. I would probably need to reread this book to do it justice but I’m not sure it calls to me.
I will be posting my review of Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal over the next couple of days.