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

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Why Modiano writes about crime and disappearance

Another part of the literary lineage - or perhaps more accurately, literary fraternity - for Patrick Modiano (in previous posts I have noted his affinity w/ Auster and Sebald) is definitely the American noir writers - from a previous generation certainly Hammet and Chandler, and more recently maybe Letham? - in his ability to establish a dark, mysterious mood closely associated w/ particular urban neighborhoods; also see connections between his work and Bolano - the formal experimentation with some grounding in realism/naturalism rather than the more playful and imaginative experimentation of, say, Borges or French modernists such as Robbe-Grillet et al. - and behind all of this, of course, looms the spirit of Proust - how? - because of his fascination with even fixation on place names and their evocative qualities. For an American reader, known almost nothing about the many streets, squares, neighborhoods, villages, islands that he mentions there are no direct associations (as there are when say Lethem notes particular Brooklyn locales) but the names are so evocative I thought he might be making them up, but a quick check on Isle des Loups (Wolf Island) in the Marne, and on some other spots, showed that no, these are real names. So how can a name evoke something when we have no direct association with it at all - the opposite of Proust's madeleine, they should be completely association-free, but that's part of the mystery, or of Modiano's skill, that when he talks about Paris streets and neighborhoods we get a sense of the landscape from just the words. Hard to explain. Am reading the 3rd novella in the Yale collection, Suspended Sentences, this one called Flowers of Ruin (accurate translation of the title this time), an obvious homage to Baudelaire. This is the most challenging of the 3 novellas: in Modiano's first-person voice, remembering a time in the 60s when he lived w/ girlfriend in an isolated and impoverished section of Paris and in their neighborhood a terrible event had occurred in the 1930s: a young couple who usually kept to themselves went out for a night of dinner and drinks and came home and died in a murder suicide. Investigations showed no crime, but indicated they'd met up with 4 others over the course of their last night; Modiano tried track down those people, which leads him to some strange encounters - people who'd lived in that era under fake names and false identities - and it eventually touches on his father - also referenced in the previous novella - who worked w some gangsters, was imprisoned during the occupation, then mysteriously sprung free. Obviously this is another Modiano work about disappearance and hidden crimes  - and an oblique reference once again to the rise of Nazism (crime in the 1930s) and the hidden secrets of French collaboration (the gangsters w/ whom his father associated could not have run wine from Bordeaux to Paris without cutting deals with the Nazis). He's looking to solve one crime and in doing so offering peeks at and hints about a far greater crime that is hiding in plain sight.

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