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

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In search of the lost father: themes that run through Modiano's novels

Patrick Modiano's 3rd (1972) novel and the 3rd in his so-called Occupation Trilogy, Ring Roads, is another step for him away from the sensational and eccentric and toward the dark and mysterious - from the first 30 or so pp (like all of his novels that I know of, this one is short, too - about 120 pp) we see his style truly emerging: an unnamed narrator scrutinizes what appears to be an old photograph, a picture of his father seated between two guys who look like thugs or gangsters, they're in what appears to be a dark bar or saloon. It's clear he has not seen his father for some time; my thoughts at this point were that it's set in the present (i.e., 1972) and he's looking at a picture from the 1940s; then, we kind of step into the photograph and see interactions among the three men and a barmaid, and we follow them home to the fairly lavish houses they're "renting" in a Paris suburb during the Occupation. We see that they're completely unsavory types and though it's never stated it's obvious by inference that they've taken over houses and properties abandoned by French Jews forced to leave ahead of the Nazi advance. Then we move into a 3rd phase as the narrator literally enters the picture. We learn that he's a cop investigating these men - and that he has not seen his father in many years (whether it's a coincidence that he's investigating his father or whether that's the whole point of his "assignment" isn't yet clear). Improbably - but this isn't exactly a realistic novel anyway - his father doesn't recognize the narrator, his son - who tells the men he's visiting the small town on vacation, that he's a novelist (funny - the reverse is true, obviously, Modiano is a novelist posing as a cop); the men (including his father) take him into their circle, invite him to dinner, and he begins to gather information. These are the themes that will run through Modiano's fiction for the next 40+ years: pursuit of the lost father, father's gangster associations, profiteering during the war, guilt and suppressed memories about the Occupation, seedy Paris nightclubs, cars and transportation in general. 

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