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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Image Interpreter

Zoran Živković

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Title: The Image Interpreter
Author: Zoran Živković
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 176 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: The Image Interpreter - US
The Image Interpreter - UK
The Image Interpreter - Canada
  • Serbian title: Тумач фотографија
  • Translated by Randall A. Major

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing and creative chains of stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Many of Zoran Živković's novels take the form of a sequence of ultimately often surprisingly connected stories, and The Image Interpreter is another inspired variation on this approach. The main setting here is a Paris metro carriage, through which nine characters (subjects) pass, brushing past and against each other as they enter, sit and stand, and leave. This is an image-novel, and central to it is photography, on and with cell phones and more traditional cameras, as each characters also takes and/or sees images, in a variety of ways and forms.
       Part of the fun is in how Živković weaves the story: one by one, the characters' separate stories are presented (with the tenth and final unifying chapter then taking on slightly different form). The end of each chapter leads seamlessly and with some small connection to the next, the character taking over having noticed something about the previous one -- something they did or how they acted, for example, or just their mere presence -- the way one notices things on a typical subway ride, making an impression, yet also not necessarily really standing out. It's nicely done, giving a constant sense of connection between what otherwise are entirely different lives and stories; the nine subjects are strangers to each other, but even just this small intersection of their lives is strong enough to give a cohesive whole feel to the novel all along (i.e. even before the final chapter).
       The stories are nicely varied too, as the characters have very different reasons for taking the metro, and then very different experiences around it. From the first, who finds the metro a congenial environment for reading in, and rides the rails for hours lost in his books, to a woman looking to recapture the past, to a writer who regularly comes to the metro looking for inspiration, to a secret agent juggling identities (and a phone for each day of them), it's a cross-section of very different characters. They tend to be somewhat solitary and isolated -- and they re all traveling alone -- but beyond that share few characteristics.
       The near-ubiquity of cell phone cameras, and the ease with photographs can be sent via email or SMS gives Živković ample opportunity to lead his characters to taking and looking at pictures, but here too their is great variety. Their attitudes, towards photography and these captured images also differ -- though all get quite caught up in the possibilities, at least for a while. The novel also veers into the fantastical here, as the photographs are often unusual: one camera always leaves something missing, for example, even when it's obviously there to the naked eye, another shows -- to the woman who uses it -- different-colored halos above the subjects' heads, suggesting compatibility (or not), while another is sent pictures of himself, as if someone had been spying on his every move.
       Finally, there is the image interpreter of the title, Miss Margot Verdier:

It was her gift. Others could only see what was shown in photographs -- often not even that -- while she saw through into the depths. She saw beyond the visible. She knew how to interpret fully what appeared there.
       She is the unseen -- or unnoticed -- presence in the carriage, the ultimate common element, and the tenth chapter then returns to the nine that have come before, the characters again passing review. Rather than full-fledged tales, each now is given a dream -- less grounded in the real, but even closer to their cores. This second loop through the characters and their lives makes for an effective double-bow to the novel, an added, twisted layer.
       It's all nicely and cleverly done. One of the dangers of Živković's fiction can be that one gets caught up in the clever construction, more concerned with how he's going to pull it off than the actual substance, but there's a lot of creativity and variety on display in these pieces, the stories, themselves. These are fun, unusual episodes, piece by piece, taking unusual turns and playing with a variety of interesting ideas, large and small. Meanwhile, the larger whole is satisfying too.
       Enjoyable entertainment, through and through.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 January 2018

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The Image Interpreter: Reviews: Zoran Živković: Other books by Zoran Zivkovic under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Zoran Živković was born in Belgrade in 1948.

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