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

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Lake a patient etherized: Modiano's Paris Nocturne

Patrick Modiano's 2003 short novel, Paris Nocturne (the French title is Accident Nocturne - why take such liberties w/ a title, even if you can come up w/ a better one? Is that really the translator's proper role?) is recognizably Modiano right from the start, developing many of the themes he built his novels on in the 1990s, in this case, as in I think each of the short novels in Suspended Sentences, a man in contemporary time (2003) looks back at an important event in this life: in this case, the novel begins in about 1985 as the author, then a man in his 20s or so, crossing a street in Paris - night time, we later learn he has just said good-bye to his girlfriend who is heading to England for what she thinks will be a short stay but turns out they never see each other again - and he's struck by a car, injuring his ankle. He's later hustled off to a hospital, along w/ a bloody-faced woman who was apparently the driver - a big man with brown hair gets them to the hospital. Under ether, the narrator has a memory and thinks he recalls knowing the woman driver from some similar episode in his past: we learn that as a schoolboy he'd been struck by a car, also treated under ether, and a woman - apparently or at least possibly the same woman - lived in his apartment building and came to his aid. So is this a fantasy, or weird coincidence, or something more sinister? There is something mysterious about this woman: the brown-haired man gets the author to sign a statement that he will not press charges, and gives him a lot of cash. We get the sense that maybe she's a celebrity? We certainly get the sense that the man is a gangster - which leads to another chain of connections, familiar back story for all Modiano novels: moving about among many places in his childhood, abandoned by his mother (he doesn't even know her identity, though in one weird scene a woman who may be his mother shows up in front of his house and berates him), the father with some kind of mob connections plunging deeper into poverty and later dropping from his son's life, the man streets and parks and stations in Paris with their odd names, all seen by night. One different twist is his brushing shoulders w/ a philosopher-guru who leads impromptu street seminars near the university - and his relationship w/ two female acolytes. There are fewer over political implications in his novel, but we still have sense that the disappearances and the secretive nature of all encounters is part of the French guilt and group amnesia about the Occupation.

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