‘Zone’ by Mathias Énard (Review – IFFP 2015, Number 16)

IMG_2040Just when you thought I’d reached the end of my IFFP endeavours, with all fifteen longlisted titles read and reviewed, you’ll notice that there’s one more destination on the horizon, courtesy of a sixteenth member of this year’s crop of books.  Here at the Shadow Panel, we like to do things our own way, and over the past few years, we’ve chosen our own shortlists and even our own winners.  This year, though, we’ve surpassed ourselves, considering a book which the real judges deemed unworthy of the longlist.  Tickets please – the train’s about to leave…

Zone by Matthias Énard – Fizcarraldo Editions (translated by Charlotte Mandell)
What’s it all about?
Zone takes place on a train journey between Paris and Rome, where Francis Mirkovic, newly retired from his work in the French intelligence service, is moving ever closer to a new life (and identity).  As he sits in the carriage, hung-over and exhausted, he thinks about the life he’s leaving behind, staring out of the window only to see his past reflected in his mind.

While part of the book looks at the man in the train, most of the story slips back in time, looking at the reasons why Mirkovic has decided to cut his ties with his former employers and head to Rome.  He’s a man with a past, one he’d rather forget, and every station he passes brings him closer to his new existence.  The truth is, though, that his past will follow him – the Zone is not a place you can escape that easily…

Did it deserve to make the shortlist?
Undoubtedly.  I read Zone in 2014 (you can read my full review here), and Énard’s novel made it onto my shortlist of the best five books of my reading year.  It’s a stunning book, challenging and exhilarating, a fitting début for Fitzcarraldo Editions (even if Open Letter Books did publish an American version a few years earlier).  Whether it’ll take out the Shadow IFFP is uncertain, but I can assure you that it’ll be one of the books under consideration 😉

Why didn’t it make the shortlist?
Well, do you want the easy answer or the more complex version?

Easy – It wasn’t longlisted.

Complex – Erm, not really sure

Let’s just run through the process here.  The first hurdle is eligibility, and though there was a a0a94-img_5135previous American edition, this did not affect eligibility (it was checked specifically, according to my sources).  Next, we have to know whether the book was actually entered for the prize.  Again (and this information was confirmed by several people), we have a green light.  Finally, then, assuming that I haven’t been misled, the only obstacle was the decision of the judges, so the only conclusion I can come to is that the five people given the task of deciding the best piece of fiction translated into English and published in the UK last year decided that Énard’s epic novel wasn’t quite up to the quality of the other books they decided on.  Like The Investigation.  And Tiger Milk

We on the Shadow Panel (well, Stu and I, to be more precise) have thought about calling in books before, and even this year, there were several other titles we would have liked to see on the longlist.  However, this was the first time that a book’s omission seemed to surprise so many people, at least in our little corner of the blogosphere (and Twitter), and in many ways, we had little choice.  It was either draft Zone into the longlist, or accept that the judges knew better.

That was never likely to happen 😉

If it turns out that my information is wrong, and that the book wasn’t entered or eligible, then I suppose I’ll have to eat humble pie.  However, if the judges really expect me to believe that Zone was inferior to all of the titles on the longlist, then I’m not sure I can take their decisions too seriously…

The IFFP winner will be announced next week, and we’ll be revealing our Shadow champion a day or two earlier.  There’s every chance that this year will see the same winner for both prizes, but at least we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that we gave one of the best books of the year the attention it deserved.

And that’s all I have to say on the subject…

2 thoughts on “‘Zone’ by Mathias Énard (Review – IFFP 2015, Number 16)

  1. Past history doesn’t give one positive feedback on the judges decision, although there has been a great decision recently with the Man Booker acknowledging Laszlo Krasznahorkai & his translators


    1. Gary – I do feel like I’m repeating myself sometimes, but it needs to be said every now and then – the judges don’t always know best 😉


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