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

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Fogiveness and fogetting in Modiano's novels

The last third or so of Patrick Modiano's 1972 novel, Ring Roads, makes explicit some of the key themes that have been latent in his first two novels and the first two-thirds of this one - and that later in his career get much more subtle treatment. The narrator joins his father and father's gangster cronies in the small town outside of Paris to celebrate the wedding of one of the thugs to the niece of another one. Modiano more or less gives up the idea that his narrator is a cop under cover investigating the racketeering - he moves fluidly through his narration (in all of his works) and what's "true" in one section of the novel may no longer hold in a later section. In any event, the wedding celebration is fairly realistic. Throughout, the father never recognizes the narrator as his son - or at least never acknowledges this recognition - and the son hears some vituperative anti-Semitism: none of the others present realize the narrator and his father are Jewish (a theme he treated elsewhere, passing) and ultimately the narrator springs into action and strangles one of the wedding guests to death. Concerned that the murder will be discovered and fearful that the thugs plan to kill his father, he hustles his father away from the celebration, steals a car, heads back into Paris from which they can disappear (I think I have that right - many of Modiano's novels end in a flight and an escape, usually across a border - I may be combining elements). So this section is more direct than anything else he'd written up to that point: this narrative is about the Occcupation, the anti-Semitism, the theft from Jews who were forced to leave, the appropriations, the collaboration, the profiteering (looked back on, at the very end, from a the present day), and we see once again that he writes about the repression of memory and the lack of guilt, the easy with which France assimilated to the post-War world, as a victorious and heroic, long-suffering nation - the complicity was forgotten. In later novels, for the most part, he seldom if every specifies Judiasm or the Occupation - it's all by inference. IN this final section of the novel the narrator repeats several times that he forgives his father for trying to kill him by pushing him in front of a train. That act is never explained, nor is this forgiveness - but it must have to do w/ forgiving the sins of the French nation and Modiano's own personal search for a reconciliation w/ the father who abandoned him (not sure if that's a biographical fact, but the theme comes up again and again in his novels).

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