Zone Review

My review of Zone by Mathais Enard has been published at The National. Here’s a bit:

Although Énard’s petit modernism should not be taken for experimentalism, Zone is nonetheless impressive. Its great success is in the author’s ability to use the novel’s structure to portray Francis’s scattered mind and to map out an extraordinarily broad historical terrain. He has taken Francis’s entire adult life, plus the 2,000-year history of the Mediterranean Zone and pulverised it into linguistic smithereens. These have then been painstakingly arranged it into something resembling Francis’s frenetic mind. Shot through with vivid characters, taut stories, bizarre flights of free association, and pages of historical erudition, Francis’s journey becomes a looping, digressive, spasmodic text – one that lashes together geographies and epochs.

This history of the Mediterranean à la Francis assaults contemporary visions of Europe as a community of fixed nation-states, turning the countries of the Mediterranean basin into plots of land that have for centuries been criss-crossed by various ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and political systems. The familiar demarcations of the world as told by western scholars give way to a new entity – the Zone as seen through Francis’s shadow-history. Zone’s lack of periods becomes a true asset. Confronted with a bewildering new geography, the reader is all but forced to crash along with Francis through the boundaries of character, time, geography, logic, and culture, just as Francis’s thoughts crash through syntactical barriers that would typically be forced by hard punctuation. One does not so much read this book as become absorbed in it. The cacophony of images is vast and and chaotic, yet this is a kind of bewilderment that engages, instilling a desire for repeat readings in order to gain a clearer view.

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Great review Scott. I really appreciate your reserved critical praise. After serious consideration you didn’t rush to call it a masterpiece–as incredible as the book clearly is. I am really looking forward to your views on the best translated book of 2010.

Great review. Ultimately, though, Zone remains a tad too long for the type of stream of consciousness it embraces: there is only so much disassociation and different pathways a reader can follow before the mind rebels. Which might be why so many people claim its ‘unreadable in one sitting and needs revisiting': perhaps because in its remarkable labyrinth style it can also overwhelm.

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