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.)
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.
was keen to see this edition of
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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