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3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,638 ratings  ·  301 reviews
La nuit descend sur Vienne et sur l’appartement où Franz Ritter, musicologue épris d’Orient, cherche en vain le sommeil, dérivant entre songes et souvenirs, mélancolie et fièvre, revisitant sa vie, ses emballements, ses rencontres et ses nombreux séjours loin de l’Autriche – Istanbul, Alep, Damas, Palmyre, Téhéran… –, mais aussi questionnant son amour impossible avec l’idé ...more
Paperback, 378 pages
Published August 19th 2015 by Actes Sud
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  1,638 ratings  ·  301 reviews

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Lee Klein
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finished this finally, unintentionally in the perfect way, reading from three to five in the morning when I couldn't sleep. It's the perfect way to finish because this is an insomniac's diary, or more so, its conceit involves an Austrian insomniac's cognitive perambulations in bed in Vienna as he makes his way, only ordered by the increasingly late hour, through the occidental experience of alterity (the novel's keyword) in the orient. It's about the interpenetration of east and west, self in th ...more
Paul Fulcher
Now on the outstanding longlist for the 2017 Republic of Consciousness Prize for 'gorgeous prose and hardcore literary fiction' from small, independent presses.

In Germany they impose the Scriptures on you in the back of the bedside table drawer, in Muslim countries they stick a little compass for you into the wood of the bed, or they draw a wind rose marking the direction of Mecca on the desk, compass and wind rose that can indeed serve to locate the Arabian Penisula, but also, if you're so in
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We Europeans see them with the horror of otherness; but this otherness is just as terrifying for an Iraqi or a Yemenite. Even what we reject, what we hate, emerges in this common imaginal world. What we identify in these atrocious decapitations as ‘other’, ‘different’, ‘Oriental’, is just as ‘other’, ‘different’, and ‘Oriental’ for an Arab, a Turk, or an Iranian,

My initial bliss digging into this rich novel soon gave way to more serious labor. Whereas Jim Gauer's masterful Novel Explosives was a
Philippe Malzieu
Oct 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
I remembered the beginning of Salammbô. "C'était à Megara, faubourg de Carthage, dans le jardin d'Hamilcar." In only one sentence, I live in the Mysterious Orient, there is the color, the scent, the wet suffocating heat (in french we name it touffeur) of the luxuriant vegetation. I was already in love with Salammbô.
I did not want to read this book. It belongs to the short list for the Goncourt Prize then which the best french book (Laurent Binet) has been eliminated.
And I read the beginning of t
Compass takes place over the course of one, long night during which Franz Ritter, a Viennese musicologist, suffers from a terrible bout of insomnia. The symptoms from his recently diagnosed illness, the memories of an unrequited love, and the dissatisfaction at his mediocre academic career all contribute to his sleepless night. Instead of chapters, Énard uses time stamps to denote the hours that are slowly ticking away as Franz runs through years of memories. Sarah, a French Academic with whom F ...more
Gumble's Yard

Fitzcarraldo Editions is an independent publisher (their words) specialising in contemporary fiction and long-form essays ….. it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language . Their novels are (my words) distinctively and beautifully styled, with plain, deep blue covers and a "French-flap" style ....

And that serves as som
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-mbi, 2017, 2018-rofc
I made a start on this book several months ago when it was long listed for the Man Booker International prize. I gave up after a third of the book because I felt like I was being tortured by being force-fed Wikipedia articles.

This time, I stuck with it and made it to 100%.

I’m not at all sure what it is I want to say about this book, so I took the unusual (for me) step of looking at some other reviews before writing my own. There are two quotes from The Guardian that, I think, sum up my sentiment

Énard has written a masterwork, a long meditation on the Other, as embodied in his two main characters and their lifelong study of the idea and reality of the ‘Orient’ and the West. The entire work consists of the reminiscences of insomniac, fiftyish (?) Franz over one night as he wrestles with the knowledge that he has a fatal disease and has failed in a lifelong attempt to win Sarah, the object of his obsession. The irony, we come to see, is that despite his long academic meditations on the ne
A lot of people quit reading this book because of the accumulation of names and places. And it is true: Enard overwhelms his reader with an avalanche of references to mainly 19th century European writers (Goethe, Heine, Balzac, Hugo, etc.) and musicians (Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner, etc.), intermingled with an infinite series of Arabic, Turkish, Persian writers and musicians; and the place of action is constantly shifting from Vienna to Paris, Prague, Berlin, and to Istanbul, Cairo, ...more
Jim Coughenour
A superb book, perfect for insomniacs – being one long night's reverie by an ailing Austrian musicologist Orientalist who cannot sleep. It is a slow read, it will doubtless appeal only to a few, but what a fortunate few we are. On one level the novel is a spirited, comical refutation of Said's Orientalism (much of which I would have missed without the work of Robert Irwin); on another, it is a fantasia on Orientalist themes, infusing the spleen of Thomas Bernhard and the musing melancholy of W G ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Boussole” had been one of my top reads last year, and (in my opinion), a very deserving Prix Goncourt winner. I was thus happy to plunge into this dense and atmospheric novel a second time, as part of the 2017 Man Booker International challenge.

I can happily say that “Boussole” certainly holds up to a second reading. The book is about Franz, a middle-aged Austrian musicologist, who is having a sleepless night. He spends what should be his sleeping hours revisiting memories of his past travels a
Katia N
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Encyclopaedic, intelligent and profound. Unexpectedly, but it has turned quite lyrical at the second part, and it has appeared to contain only one, but absolutely beautiful love scene. Total delight to read.
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review will follow.
Jim Elkins
Sebald's Pernicious Influence

One of the challenging properties of painting is that influences are immediately visible: there's no hiding indebtedness from Pollock, Richter, or Schiele. Novels are complex in time and structure, and influences can be masked by masses of detail. "Compass" is at first intermittently, then forgivably, but finally overwhelmingly and depressingly indebted to W.G. Sebald. Enard has Sebald's penchant for travel in Europe, and he loves weaving histories of places and peop
ReemK10 (Paper Pills)
My first thought before deciding to read Compass was, would this be a betrayal?

“Sarah had mentioned the Great Name, the wolf had appeared in the midst of the flock, in the freezing desert: Edward Said. It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent.”

Would Mathias Enard's Compass be an attempt to appropriate or redefine Edward Said's Orientalism?

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expe
Robert Wechsler
For what it is, this long novel is very good. What I realized from reading nearly half of it was that a novel such as this — not so much a novel of ideas as a novel that details people and activities involved in an idea — has to be extremely good to keep my interest. Something else is needed to make such a novel work for me. I found myself increasingly hungry for that something else, and when it was clear that it wasn’t coming, I moved on to another book.
Compass takes place over the course of one, long night during which Franz Ritter, a Viennese musicologist, suffers from a terrible bout of insomnia. The symptoms from his recently diagnosed illness, the memories of an unrequited love, and the dissatisfaction at his mediocre academic career all contribute to his sleepless night. Instead of chapters, Énard uses time stamps to denote the hours that are slowly ticking away as Franz runs through years of memories. Sarah, a French Academic with whom F ...more
Leah Bayer
This is a book I was not expecting to love so much. I have seen it described as difficult, erudite, surreal, and dense. I suppose it is all of those things, but I fell utterly in love.

This is not a casual reading experience. In some ways, calling it dense is an understatement. Compass is one night in the mind of a dying man who is reminiscing about his past. He is an Orientalist, as are all of his friends and colleagues. While there is a kind of over-arching plot focusing on Sarah, a girl he lo
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This complex, but thoroughly engaging work, is a journey into the seduction of the Orient; “The Orient is an imaginal construction, an ensemble of representations from which everyone picks what they like, wherever they are.” A novel that contains stories within stories, as Franz reads old emails, research papers, dwells on moments of joy, sadness. The historical lessons, for example the revolution in Tehran, containing the players the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini, abound. The present- ...more
“Life is a Mahler symphony, it never goes back, never retraces its steps.”

But that is exactly what Franz Ritter is doing one night; as he struggles to find sleep, he is reviewing his life, his time with Sarah and the joy he felt in her presence.

They met at a conference held at Hainfield Castle in Vienna, and have since taken strolls or eaten meals in Damascus, Istanbul, Tehran and Aleppo.

“I have to admit that, even though I am not what could be called a hedonist or a gourmet, the setting, the fo
Jackie Law
Compass, by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell), narrates the thoughts of a middle aged academic as he spends a sleepless night in his apartment in Vienna. Franz Ritter is a musicologist suffering from insomnia. He believes he is ill, possibly dying, although doctors have yet to diagnose any specific ailment. As he lies in his bed he thinks back over key events in his life. These include travels in the Middle East, acquaintances he spent time with there, and his obsession with a woma ...more
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who would think Orientalism could be so much fun today? This novel might be a little pedantic, maybe too academic, but I found it enthralling. We are given the thoughts, dreams, anxieties, and nightmares over one night from a now middle-aged European narrator who has been diagnosed with an illness and spends that night reflecting, rehashing, revisiting thoughts on past interests, experiences, and feelings that arose from youthful adventures in travel to the Middle East. Énard's narrator digresse ...more
Apr 08, 2017 marked it as started-but-dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translations
DNF at 48%. Too many references to things that I am not familiar with plus I always struggle when books are written with so many run on sentences. It's just not my style of book , but I'm sure it's a reflection on me not the book.
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(3.5) Very interesting, but, like Zone, suffers from Énard’s info-dump syndrome. Street of Thieves remains his most powerful and coherent work, Compass being the second best. Looking forward to his fourth translated work, to be published later this year.
Jun 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
I hated this book so much! how the hell did the Goncourt judges think to award it their prestigious prize? It's a lot of rambling digressions, poorly organised, with no character or plot development. People are saying "Oh well it's a very clever thesis but it isn't a novel", well no, it isn't good enough to be a thesis because it doesn't develop any argument assembling and organising evidence. If the idea is to show how east and west are mutually fascinated, we'd need a lot more evidence than a ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mbi-2017
The fragmented structure of this book does not make it an easy read. The theme and the half-page long sentences reminded me of Faulkner's "As I lay dying". Also it was some time ago that I read a book in French so it took me a while to get in tune with the rhythm and the lyrics of the language. But while reading I become more and more enthralled by the story and the structure.

The book could be described as "1001 musings about love in the Orient by musicologist Franz Ritter as he lies awake in t
Victoria Sadler
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compass by Mathias Énard, translated by Charlotte Mandell, was shortlisted for the Booker International award in 2017 and yet I only got around to reading it this month. But I’m so glad I did as this is a phenomenally clever and engaging book about a dying man – a musicologist in Vienna called Franz – who spends one lonely night reminiscing about the unrequited love of his life, Sarah. Yet, blended into this sorrow is the yearning he also had for the Middle East and memories of the shared advent ...more
Joseph Schreiber
I know this is a much loved book but as much as I found the subject area fascinating, an area that intersects with my own youthful interest in the ancient Near East which was abandoned at the outset of conflict between Iran and Iraq when I was in university, like Zone, I found this book to be about 200 pages too long. I liked it much better but it took me forever to get through it and at the end I skipped through the last 40 pages. Much has been written about this book by those who love it, so I ...more
I never understood the accuracy of compasses. How could they always restore themselves after something made them lose the north. Beethoven once received a compass that pointed to the east. Any physician would have felt some sort of pitiful compassion with him. I would rather envied him, for having a direction for his music, his life, his love. Everyone needs a compass that makes one swim against the current. For Franz Ritter it is Sarah, his east that almost never shows any compassion to him but ...more
Anne Marie
Mind numbing. If you enjoy reading Wikipedia articles you will like this book. It is a bombastic, grandiloquent, pretentious, ostentatious treatise on anything and everything. I felt like I was on a date with someone who spent the entire evening name dropping yet who does not really know the individuals. I could not bring myself to finish it.
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The Mookse and th...: 2017 MBI Shortlist: Compass 20 58 Apr 14, 2017 11:22PM  
ManBookering: Compass by Mathias Enard 7 57 Apr 04, 2017 12:01PM  

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French fiction author. He mainly writes novels with Arabic themes. At university he studied Arabic and Persian. In 2000 he moved to Barcelona (Spain), where he writes all his works.
His first novel was La Perfection du tir, released in 2003. Two more books were released before his first success, Zone, appeared in 2008. This book, written as a single sentence that continues along more than 500 pages

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