Boussole — Mathias Énard

This Prix Goncourt winner got off to a promising start but was ultimately too much for me.

Boussole (Compass) is the insomniac musings of Franco-Austrian musicologist Franz Ritter. I found the parts of the plot Ritter’s own life engaging — including his unsuccessful relationship with fellow academic Sarah. However, Énard only comes back to that from time to time, and it turns out I have little patience for a hiatus of about 50 pages between plot developments. So much of the book is devoted to Ritter’s meandering thoughts about, for instance, the life of Liszt or the meaning of the orient, that I lost the will to go on.

If you’re into musicology or the meeting of East and West, then this could be for you. It’s not that I’m not interested in these topics in principle, but Énard’s exposition left me feeling that I needed to be more knowledgeable about them at the start to have the appetite to read on and truly enjoy the plot.

Fortunately, I’m in striking distance of many good bookshops while we’re in Bordeaux so I’ve been able to turn this flop into an opportunity to stock up on more French literature.

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