Mathias Enard is one of my favourite writers, so obviously the release of a newly translated book of his is a cause for great celebration here on TriumphoftheNow.com.
This one, Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants, was published in its original French in 2010, with the BRAND NEW 2018 Fitzcarraldo edition boasting another sterling translation from Charlotte Mandell. In sharp contrast to the other three volumes of Enard I’ve read, not only is this not a big novel, but it is also not set in the contemporary world. This glorious Enard novella is a piece of historical fiction, all about the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo’s abortive trip to Constantinople in 1506, where he was summoned to design a bridge across the Golden Horn.
This bridge does not exist. Not because it is a fictional creation from the pen of Enard, but because it collapsed during construction due to an earthquake. In a rather charming Author’s Note at the end, Enard discusses the “facts” that lie underneath his novel – there is evidence that Michelangelo did visit the city we now call Istanbul, there is most definitely a sketch in his hand for a bridge across the Golden Horn (included as a neat coda at the end of the book), but as to the personal interactions between Michelangelo and the various factions within the Ottoman court, there is little to know for certain. But that’s fine, because Enard spins an evocative and human narrative out of this piece of intriguing historical fact-
I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to stop. It’s not that late, but I’m tired and I’m sleepy, I’ve had a busy week and I’m going to have a busy tomorrow too, so I think it’d be best for me if I closed this laptop and got myself an early night.
I need to wake up early tomorrow, and also my lover is coming so I gotta do some cleaning and tidying, as well as many hours of remunerative work. I know it’s not like me to be “tired”, but I didn’t sleep well last night as I was on the cava again. I’ve also been a bit troubled by people recently talking about how being blackout drunk is evidence of a “serious” alcohol problem. I’ve been blackout drunk literally hundreds of times, and not infrequently since I stopped passing out daily.
Today I have drunk nothing, there are many days, now, when I drink nothing, but sometimes I do still like to drink until I disappear. It’s not healthy, but it’s not expensive to do in Spain, and it doesn’t interfere with any responsibilities I have. Also, I know exactly what I’ve done every time I’ve been blackout drunk this year, as I mainly drink alone and have Netflix and Spotify records to show. The last time I was blackout drunk, for example, I watched 15 minutes of bad comedy, then listened to a Spotify Playlist called ‘Independent Women of Pop’ for about the same amount of time, then I passed out. Is that bad? That’s bad, right? It’s probably why I’m fat now.
I probably shouldn’t be drinking at all. But I can’t read 24/7, can I?
I feel strange.
Like, anxious, confused, stressed, strange.
It is two days later than when I wrote the above, and in that time not only have I not had anything else to drink, but I’ve also written and submitted lots of depressing poems, as well as had two – not just one – pieces of prose accepted for publication in a national newspaper. This is exciting. (link to first one!)
But I feel strange.
I have a cute dog, I live in the centre of a gorgeous city, I’m reading a lot, writing a lot, making ends meet fine and and and-
I feel strange. I feel strange.
How is it meant to feel when you have the things you want? It’s meant to feel good. How is it meant to be to be the person you want to be? Because it feels strange.
There is nothing for me to be frustrated about, nothing for me to worry about – as long as I don’t go on a shopping spree or spontaneously get a drug addiction, nothing bad is going to happen to me (save genuine accidents) in the short term.
Yes, I’m still drinking too much, but the “too much” that I’m drinking now is a lot less too much than the “too much” I was drinking before. The “too much” I’m drinking now is because I’m anxious about the fact that I’m achieving things that I want, rather than the fact that I’m not. I’m anxious that the “success” will be temporary and fleeting, that it’ll be short-lived, that 2018 will be the one year of my life when I got to have a good time, and when the year is over and my poems are out and I’ve had some work published in some visible places, everything will start dribbling back shitwards…
In my experience, good things have always been fake, there’s always some kind of poo inside the package. Meh, I’m not even certain that’s true. Although he was very ill when a puppy, now my dog is #allgrownup he’s healthy and happy and friendly and sweet. As this year, 2018, my year continues, everything seems to be stable in its positivity, stable stable, stable, stable…
I keep waiting for something fucking awful to rear out of the darkness, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t and that that that makes me-
Enard’s novella is a real treat. It is short, less than 150 pages, and it contains lots of brief chapters, meaning it takes less than an hour to read, and covers only a few months waaaay back in 1506. The narratorial perspective is seated here, in the modern age, using the gentle post-modernism of the early parts of The French-Lieutenant’s Woman and comparing the past to the present, describing it using the references of now. Given the historical setting, what that ultimately translates into is discussion of the way political control of the Eastern Mediterranean has changed since then, which cities have changed their names, which Empires have collapsed, which religions have waned in their power, who has been conquered, who has become a “foe” instead of a “friend”, etc, and also – in the swift Author’s Note – a brief explanation of the “veracity” of the plot.
Enard’s narrative is about desire and repression, about unrequited love and addiction and court intrigues, it’s a bodice-ripper where the main character is too nervous to touch the people he wants (I think Michelangelo gets a hand job at some point, but this is left intentionally vague), and too obtuse to acknowledge the people who it is very obvious want him in turn. Enard’s text (in Mandell’s – again – impressive translation) sings, evokes fear and excitement and confusion and glee, describes the travel and the exploration and the movement from the West to the East, the mysteries of the expanding world and the despair ordinary (or almost ordinary?) people feel amongst a world that is (still) the playground of undemocratic warlords. There is lots about the recent Reconquista and the resultant mass migration of Muslims and Jews out of the Iberian Peninsula and into the rest of the Med, there is lots about cross-cultural exchange and the reality of the already somewhat globalised world that existed within the many, many cultures built within close proximity of the Mediterranean.
This is a gorgeous novella about famous artworks and infamous people, about the construction and design of monuments that have lasted for centuries, as well as artworks and – crucially – a bridge that haven’t made it through the waxing and waning that is time. Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants is tragic and comedic, it is emotive and witty, it’s a frolicsome and impressive piece of work. As with the previous examples I’ve read of the Enard & Mandell double act, this one is a real pleasure to read.
As with all the Enards published by Fitzcarraldo, highly recommended.
Order direct from the publisher here.
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Special Edition of Bad Boy Poet
Bad Boy Poet is the debut poetry collection from whingy hipster blogger Scott Manley Hadley. It is a series of “confessional-style” poems describing the life of a confused and conflicted youngish man as he tries to work out who he is, following a mental health crisis and the subsequent breakdown of a relationship. Also there’s loads about poo, illness, ageing, masculinity, Pierce Brosnan, sexuality and dogs. Purchase from TriumphoftheNow.com to receive a special signed edition that includes a personal dedication, a handwritten exclusive poem AND a high resolution full-frontal nude photograph (postcard size).
I’m so looking forward to this, hope my copy drops soon.
150 pages in under an hour? Man, you read quickly!
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Very very very short chapters. Gorgeous language. Engaging narrative. An absolute dream.
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