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Compartments

by Zoran Zivkovic

translated by Alice Copple-Tosic

(Polaris, £ not advised, 90 pages, paperback, first published 2004, this edition published 2004. ISBN: 86-83741-22-2. Story also published in Postscripts magazine, issue 2.)

Review by Chris Butler

cover scanI was keen to see this edition of Compartments by Zoran Zivkovic -- partly because I've enjoyed previous stories by Zivkovic, partly because I was curious to see what these Polaris editions look like. Regarding the latter point, this particular edition comes with a sturdy cover sporting a very nice Claude Monet painting. The pages measure 6.5" x 4.75". The font is fairly large so there are only around 200 words per page. All in all it's a cute little item and one that fans of Zivkovic might well want to seek out.

The novelette takes place aboard a train consisting of six compartments. A gentleman runs to catch the train and is pulled aboard by the conductor. The story is narrated by the gentleman, who visits each compartment in turn and discovers that he follows in the footsteps of a woman who had similarly passed through at some earlier time. Surreal episodes within the compartments are interspersed with conversations in the corridor between the gentleman and the conductor.

Zivkovic's approach will be familiar to those who have read others of his books. He presents a series of loosely connected episodes, and finally a concluding scene. Initially I found the story quite delightfully absurd. The compartments each contain bizarre characters and situations. The narrator blankly accepts everything he encounters, no matter how ridiculous it may be.

But I began to fear that the ending would disappoint. And indeed it did. Zivkovic provides no satisfactory culmination to the story, but attempts instead to be even more enigmatic in the final section. On page 83 the gentleman narrator questions why he must wear a blindfold over his eyes. The reader may feel inclined to ask the same question of the author. The conductor replies, "Because that's the way things are done." It's not really an answer to the question, but it's the only one that Zivkovic seems willing to offer.

The story is written in a deceptively simple style, apparently with little attempt to be overly descriptive and yet full of telling details. The conductor is by far the best character, filled with yearning for the mysterious woman. The other characters are mere sketches, alas. Still, I did enjoy the whimsical nature of the story and it can be recommended to fans of the surreal, or to those already addicted to Zivkovic's work.

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