In Which The Shadow Jury for the Man Booker International Prize 2017 Revisits Mathias Enard’s Compass and Arrives At A Decision


“We are two opium smokers each in his own cloud, seeing nothing outside, alone, never understanding each other we smoke, faces agonizing in a mirror, we are a frozen image to which time gives the illusion of movement, a snow crystal gliding over a ball of frost, the complexity of whose intertwinings no one can see, I am that drop of water condensed on the window of my living room, a rolling liquid pearl that knows nothing of the vapor that engendered it, nor of the atoms that still compose it but that, soon, will serve other molecules, other bodies, the clouds weighing heavy over Vienna tonight: over whose nape will this water stream, against what skin, on what pavement, toward what river, and this indistinct face on the glass is mine only for an instant, one of the millions of possible configurations of illusion – look, Herr Gruber is walking his dog despite the drizzle, he’s wearing a green hat and his eternal raincoat; he avoids getting splashed by the cars by making ridiculous little leaps on the pavement: the mutt thinks he wants to play, so it leaps towards its master and gets a good clout the second it places its dirty paw on Herr Gruber’s trench coat, despite everything he manages to reach the road to cross, his silhouette is lengthened by the streetlights, a blackened pool in the midst of the sea of shadows of the tall trees ripped apart by the headlights along the Porzellangasse, and Herr Gruber seems to think twice about plunging into the Alsergrund night, as I do about leaving my contemplation of the drops of water, the thermometer, and the rhythym of the trams descending towards the Schottentor.”

It’s not exactly the kind of first sentence you could easily memorize, as people have done with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

But, it is indicative of the style of this book. Mathias Enard’s prose is mesmerizing, catching us up in a mood, covering us with atmosphere, and yet not wavering one instant from brilliance.

I thought this book might be too esoteric to win the Man Booker International Prize 2017. It wasn’t, for me, an easy read. Nor is there a specific plot on which I can center my thoughts. For those reasons, I chose The Unseen as my personal favorite for the Prize. In fact, The Unseen received four votes from the Shadow Jury panel.

However, another four votes went to Compass, resulting in some heavy consulting between Tony and Stu, who point out that Compass won by .1 of a point in the first round of voting. All of us concur; it is a worthy book to win the Man Booker International Prize 2017.

We shall see what the official judges say is the winner. They have a hard job of it, I think, deciding between the likes of Compass, Fever Dream, Judas and The Unseen. Each book stands out for its power and pertinence; I do not envy them their job. But, the Shadow Jury has declared our choice in Compass, and we eagerly await the official judges’ verdict.


(While one waits, might I point out that Spotify has a playlist for Compass? It is a lovely accompaniment to listen to while reading.)

11 thoughts on “In Which The Shadow Jury for the Man Booker International Prize 2017 Revisits Mathias Enard’s Compass and Arrives At A Decision”

  1. Good morning Meredith, I finished reading Compass’s sentence, such beautiful prose… I will add ‘Compass’ to my reading list. Thank you for your insightful view on both ‘Compass’ and ‘The Unseen’.


    1. Good morning, sweet Sylvie. It is indeed beautiful prose, and another thing you may like about this author is that he’s French! Perhaps you will know of which he writes far better than I. I hope you enjoy reading it, and now I can’t wait to see what the official judges choose as the winner!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am too late but I much preferred Judas to A Horse Walks into a Bar. Thanks for keeping me up to speed again this year. I was a trying to keep up with you but the spring came and I am outside enjoying all of God’s creation.


    1. I much preferred Judas to A Horse Walks Into a Bar. And, as a Christian, it gave me a lot to think about in terms of betrayal. I’m still thinking about Judas!

      I have a real problem wth satire; it’s funny for about three pages, and then the sarcasm makes me want to slap the author. I felt that way with the Man Booker winner last year, which was The Sellout by Paul Beatty, and I felt this way about Grossman’s book. I suspect I take the accusations far too personally, and am unable to distance myself from the author’s…anger? That seems a more fitting word than perspective in these cases.

      So glad you were enjoying the Spring! Thanks for reading as you could.


  3. you’re certainly right about the difficulties of trying to memorise that first sentence. its one that I had to read several times over because I would get part way through and forget what I’d already read, so mesmerising was the text


    1. I began this book reading and rereading many pages…then, I just abandoned trying to sort it all out and read as if it were more “stream of consciousness”. That helped keep the flow, without trying to keep track of every single detail. Probably, many readers are able to do that, sort it all out as they go, but I am not used to sentences that are often a paragraph (or more!) long.

      That is not to say I didn’t find his writing beautiful and evocative.


    1. I love having the music of which the author writes so readily available. I did a lot of searches of music Donna Tartt mentioned as I read The Goldfinch, and even ended up buying several Arvo Partt cd’s.


  4. Hi, I bought Compass the week it was published in French, I have read and enjoyed several of his books but I have picked up and started (up to 80 pages) “Boussole” at least 5 times since it came out and force to admit that although the subject matters is interesting I have’t been able to finish it. I probably will I’m sure it’s worth it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I understand not finishing it. I couldn’t can get very far in the first book of his which I tried entitled Zone. Reading his books is laborious, at least for me, which is not to say they are without brilliance. It’s just such a heavy meal of it, one wishes for a bit of lighter fare mixed in.


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