Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Mathias Enard: Zone

A number of things attracted me to Mathias Enard's Zone: hyperbolically hailed as "The novel of the decade, if not the century"; flaunting its modernist trappings: A book length (500+ page) sentence - overwhelming Thomas Bernhard's book length (under 200 page) paragraphs - examining all the war, lies and carnage that have stained the countries of the Mediterranean. This region is the Zone of the title, the protagonist (Francis Servain Mirkovic)'s patch in his spying profession. Intent on ending his shady career Mirkovic has amassed a briefcase full of documents collating bloodshed of the Zone, encyclopedically revisiting these events is part of the novel's aim, and is on a train from Milan to Rome to sell the contents to the Vatican. The narrative follows the protagonist's reflections on the Zone, from his involvement as a Croatian solider in the Balkan conflict through his collation of material relating to all manner of historical bloodshed, on this train journey, with each kilometre lasting one page. So, we start in Milan on page 1 and end in Rome on page 514.
It's easy to get caught up in Mirkovic's ruminations, particularly if you've read Marias, also given the espionage connection, or Sebald, and the lack of punctuation allows you to freely roam his thoughts, like the blood flowing through his brain, and spilling across time. Stephen Burn made the following comment in the NY Times:
Removing periods, Énard leaves the reader floating free in the liquid of Mirkovic’s consciousness, where ancient and classical history interrupt more recent events. In this realm of eternal time, Mirkovic as a unitary subject dissolves, and across the solitary train journey he gains mythic dimensions, becoming Dante traveling through the rings of hell to a vita nuova; Hermes accompanying the dead across the Styx; and the harbinger of St. John of Patmos’s Last Days, carrying the names of the dead rather than the Book of Life.
Around the exploration of these grand themes, Enard's depiction of Mirkovic's comparatively humdrum immediate reality is vivid and equally engaging. He reads a novel about the Palestine-Israel conflict, itself presented in the book (and the only sections involving full stops), which mirrors his own history. He studies his neighbours and imagines their thoughts (again, Marias). He goes to the bar and drinks, admiring the label on a beer bottle. He smokes in the toilet. All this is rendered with the cold precision of crime fiction. Very well done.

Now I'm reading Harry Matthews' Cigarettes. Also note that Dalkey Archive Press are having a sale until the end of May - go shopping here.

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