Charlotte Mandell’s clear, fluid translation recounts the relationships and tensions that develop from here between Michelangelo, Mesihi and the stranger, which gradually assume greater importance until something has to crack. The account then shifts, fades away, and what was recently crucial seems now not to matter. The dramatic denouement feels a little too much, set in this subtle, fragmented story, which is full of hints and gestures towards big ideas and other stories without ever spelling them out for us; still, those French teenagers chose well.
brilliant and mercurial and – we now know – highly inconsistent... Énard is keen to alert the reader when things cannot be known or, when they are known, to give a source... Unfortunately, when history is able to help, it helps mostly with items and objects... At the same time, Énard wants the freedom to depict encounters, invent dialogue, and so on. The clash of the novel’s identities (essayistic critique of historical fiction? Conventional historical novel?)... Unverifiable speculation about an event that may well not have taken place swiftly gives way to the rigours of the record...
Enard’s Michelangelo is ugly, smelly and soap-averse, his powerful hands and bold presence undercut by his fears, nervous jealousies and tumbling emotions. He’s an endearing creation, who despite facing shadowy threats, must, we know, be delivered safely back to Italy to paint the teeming figures of the Sistine chapel, some of which, it’s averred, record the faces glimpsed on this oriental escapade.
Enard packs a feast for the senses into this short book. He loves to cite the catalogues, the inventories, the cargo manifests, that evoke the cross-Mediterranean traffic of the time. Michelangelo arrives on the Bosphorus along with a cargo of sable and mink fur, Bergamo silk, Florentine velvet, saltpetre and mirrors. Enard knows, too, that richly embroidered yarns from distant times and places both seduce and mislead. As the singer says, storytellers “conquer people by telling them of battles, kings, elephants and marvellous beings”. Enard both indulges and mocks this brand of traditional “Orientalism”. Like Michelangelo’s project in Constantinople, it remains an alluring fantasy.