Barthes was a fan of the James Bond series. He used them for his structural analysis of narratives. Although Zone contains many signifiers in common with Fleming’s novels, one finds it hard to imagine that Enard shares Barthes’ enthusiasm. It offers a story constructed around the figure of a French foreign agent, a la Bond. Like Bond, Francis Mirković travels a lot; seduces beautiful women; like Bond his moral compass appears to be ambiguous, his past shady. That’s as far as it goes. Thereafter, conceptually and structurally, the Bond vision of the world and the Mirković go their separate ways, an ocean far wider than the English Channel between them.
Zone’s narrative is reduced to bare bones. The novel opens with Mirković catching a train at Milan station, travelling under an assumed name. He is heading to Rome, where he is going to exchange a briefcase full of classified information for cash, which the Vatican will pay him. He will meet with his Russian lover and start a new life. As far as narrative goes, that’s it. No mysterious strangers on the train, no run-ins with bad guys, no heroics.The rest is flashbacks and a vomitous torrent of information, all told in a single-sentence 500 page monologue.
The information is an apparently haphazard stream of consciousness. Mirković’s and the author’s theme is the Mediterranean and the lands which border it. The narrator does a matchless job of reordering history, putting it back in its place. Spain and France border Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Italy borders Libya. Greece and the lands of the former Yugoslavia border Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Gaza and Syria. What all these lands have in common, beside the sea, is a shared history of violence. This is the focus of Mirković’s monologue. Atrocities in Algeria, in Salonika, in Beirut, in Barcelona and dozens of other places are all woven into one tale of blood, which also manages to incorporate the Nazi atrocities. Enard’s prose is unsparing, relentless. Perhaps like Bolano in the part about the killings in 2666, he wields language like a weapon, challenging the reader to go the distance, in spite of the horror. This is the novel as endurance sport; history without the niceties, a free-falling catalogue of despair.
At the end of which there is no salvation. Rather, at the end of which there is only the continuation which could not be written when the book was published, which shall be Syria and Gaza once again and refugees drowning in the great lake. One has the feeling that Enard never wanted to finish his voyage through the Zone. He would have wanted it to be Borgesian text, renewing itself constantly to document the latest instalment of his zone’s barbarity.
All of which makes Zone a curious, elucidatory and punishing read. A quick google revealed that the writer has a burgeoning reputation in his native land. There is something both alt-French and anti- French (anti-structuralist) in the immense seriousness of the book’s subject matter and the minimalist approach to the book’s construction. It’s the antithesis of the Anglo-Saxon Bond, which is all narrative and very little content.