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Mathias Enard (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

A contemporary premise and captivating plot form the basis to this unique novel from French writer Mathias Enard. Having received critical acclaim for his previous work, the novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt prize, France’s oldest and most prestigious literary accolade when it was first published in the French language in 2015.

The English language story, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, surrounds Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist who relays past stories from his sickbed in Vienna during a turbulent night, drifting between dreams and memories. As he recounts his travels between Istanbul, Damascus, and Tehran, the tales of well-known cultural figures provide insightful musings. From writers to artists and musicians to academics, they appear at random intervals to provide cultural interludes. At the heart of the novel is the main character’s love interest – Sarah, a French scholar who inhabits his thoughts and the interactions between them – whether we are to believe the narrator or not.

Some aspects of the narrative are complex – particularly as the character’s dreams and memories merge into occasional disorientated ramblings. However, the poignant prose manages to convey the heightened sense of feelings and sets the scene with confidence, transporting the reader with the atmosphere of the various locations, whether it’s within the heart of Paris or the Middle East.

Overall this is a clever and ambitious piece of work about the interactions between the Western and Islamic worlds. However demanding the prose appears, the underlying emotive themes provide insightful accounts into the fraught journeys and relationships during the course of the novel.

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