As night falls over Vienna, Franz Ritter, an insomniac musicologist, takes to his sickbed with an unspecified illness and spends a restless night drifting between dreams and memories, revisiting the important chapters of his life: his ongoing fascination with the Middle East and his numerous travels to Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, and Tehran, as well as the various writers, artists, musicians, academics, orientalists, and explorers who populate this vast dreamscape. At the center of these memories is his elusive, unrequited love, Sarah, a fiercely intelligent French scholar caught in the intricate tension between Europe and the Middle East.
With exhilarating prose and sweeping erudition, Mathias Énard pulls astonishing elements from disparate sources—nineteenth-century composers and esoteric orientalists, Balzac and Agatha Christie—and binds them together in a most magical way.
Mr. Énard fuses recollection and scholarly digression into a swirling, hypnotic stream-of-consciousness narration. [...] So this sad yet invigorating novel is both a love letter to a vanishing discipline and an elegy. Franz’s mental circumnavigations constitute a celebration of the civilizing power of knowledge and 'the beauty of sharing and diversity.' — Sam Sacks (The Wall Street Journal)
Énard’s prose, which tends to pile descriptive clauses ever higher on top of one another... can be mesmerizing. But it’s the larger project of his writing that bears particular consideration: in his fiction, Énard is constructing an intricate, history-rich vision of a persistently misunderstood part of the world. — The New Yorker
A fever-dream meditation on East and West and a lost love that binds the two worlds... Lyrical and intellectually rich without ever being ponderous, reminiscent at turns of Mann's Death in Venice and Bowles' Sheltering Sky. — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Mathias Énard is the most brazen French writer since Houellebecq. — New Statesman
Compass, in its relentlessly discursive impressiveness, embodies an uncompromising vision of the novel as relatively static political and cultural essay. — The Guardian
Énard has written a masterful novel... — The Washington Post
Compass is poetic, ironic, irresistible. — Jane Ciabattari (BBC)
A novelist like Énard feels particularly necessary right now, though to say this may actually be to undersell his work. He is not a polemicist but an artist, one whose novels will always have something to say to us. — Christopher Beha (Harper's Magazine)
In a time of fear and loathing, Énard’s magnum opus points us toward the reality behind so many myths of the Orient. — New Republic
This astonishing, encyclopedic, and otherwise outré meditation by Énard on the cultural intersection of East and West takes the form of an insomniac’s obsessive imaginings—dreams, memories, and desires—which come to embody the content of a life, or perhaps several.... [An] opium addict’s dream of a novel. — Publishers Weekly
For all its sandstorm of scholarship, translated with tireless eloquence by Charlotte Mandell, Compass aches with that simple yearning. 'Only love' of a person or a culture, thinks Franz under the stars of Syria, 'opens us up to the other.' — The Economist
Compass is as challenging, brilliant, and—God help me—important a novel as is likely to be published this year. — Justin Taylor (The Los Angeles Times)
Mathias Énard has found a way to restore death to life and life to death, and so joins the first rank of novelists, the bringers of fire, who even as they can’t go on, do. — Garth Risk Hallberg (The Millions)
Compass is a novel about many things. At its surface it is about the pull of unmet dreams and ambitions. The falsities of love. But at the crux of this examination of a human life is the fabric of cultures intersecting—and in the truth that the pathos of grief exempts no one. — Yasmin Roshanian (EuropeNow)