the novels of Mathias Énard

Mathias-enardRobert E. Tanner at The Quarterly Conversation:

We are lucky to have translations of the French novelist Mathias Énard, whose career suggests the exploratory, variegated template of Faulkner. A translator from Persian, Arabic, and Spanish, Énard has written nine novels in an assortment of styles and on an assortment of subjects. As Faulkner nearly always located his fiction in Mississippi, Énard has focused on the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, what he calls in his eponymous novel, the “Zone.” And as the themes of slavery, black-white relations, history, Reconstruction, and the South run through Faulkner’s novels, Énard has his touchstones of music, violence, East-West relations, and literature, all of which appear in his most recent book to be translated by Charlotte Mandell into English, the 2015 Prix Goncourt winner, Compass.

The novel takes place over a single sleepless night in 2012. The narrator, Franz Ritter, is a musicologist specializing in the “Oriental” influence on European classical music. He has just received a note along with an article written by a fellow Orientalist and long unrequited love, Sarah, and is also contending with an unspecified, possibly terminal, medical diagnosis. He reflects on their meetings over the years across Europe and the Middle East, thinks about articles he should write, and contemplates the influence of the East (which, to him, extends only as far as Iran) on the West (which he sees stretching no further than Portugal).

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