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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A narrator struggling with erased memory - Modiano

Patrick Modiano's short novel from 2003, Paris Nocturne, takes a turn toward the conventional in the last section - though, granted, Modiano needs more than just a turn to ever be considered a conventional novelist - but in this instance, whereas the other Modiano's novels that I have read conclude with a deepening of the mystery, with open and unanswered questions, with a chilling ambiguity, in this case, in a sense, the narrator "gets the girl." The novel begins with the narrator being struck by a car driven by a mysterious woman, and he spends much of the narrative (though there are many layers to the story) trying to track down this woman - in part because he thinks he may have known her in his early youth, during the years when his family was scattered and frequently on the move. Well, toward the end, after much fruitless searching and stalking, he suddenly sees her car parked on a street near a restaurant, goes in, introduces himself to her, and she of course remembers him, she reassures him that they did not know each other back in his childhood days, and after some probing questions that she deflects - he's eager to hear more about her relationship w/ the gangster who showed up after the accident, and she insists she's just his secretary, really? - they go off together into the night, presumably to begin a relationship. So yes by most standards the ending is still quite unsettled, as the woman seems as if she's be nothing but trouble and if we could turn a few pages past the conclusion we'd see the gangster employer/boyfriend back on the scene - but for Modiano this is practically a romantic ending. That said, I think he makes the discovery of the woman just too easy, too obvious - as if he had no more string to unfurl and we might as well just get it over w/ - but it's still a novel, like all his others, that's full of nuance and suggestion: a narrator in search of answers about his unsettled childhood, struggling w/ great memory erasures (it's significant that his Proustian madeleine is the scent of ether), much like his country in years just after the Occupation - and of course a narrator with memory loss, gaps, and uncertainties the antithesis of the conventional French naturalistic narrator and, for that matter, of the detective telling a tale of noir.

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