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

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Modiano's comic style - and why he abandoned it

Patrick Modiano's 2nd novel, and the 2nd in the collection The Occupation Trilogy, from 1969, The Night Watch (or, more accurately in the English-ed translation, Night Rounds) is his 2nd approach to the theme of collaboration during the Occupation, and the concomitant shame, guilt, and amnesia. Though Night Watch is hardly conventional in design or tone it's much more so than his sometimes histrionic debut novel of the year before (Place de l'etoile). In this one the narrative moves more conventionally back and forth between two points of view: one involving Jew being held captive by a cadre of Occupation officers, threatening to torture him unless he reveals info about a resistance organization; the other plot strand is the Jewish collaborator's (or victim's) point of view, as he tries to protect two people whom we recognize that he will have to betray. All that said, this is by no means a straightforward political, thriller, or historical narrative. The tone throughout is oddly comic and exaggerated, so that we never feel that this is realistic, that it could have happened, at least not in this shape or form. For ex., the gang of Occupation officers consist of men, women, all with strange names, each representative of a different nationality. Similarly, the (unnamed) collaborator has in his  charge a blind giant and a small elderly woman (though sometimes she seems to be a little girl): in other words, Modiano goes out of his way to grasp onto the odd literary conventions of the 60s - Pynchonesque names, extreme comical behavior, a willful resistance to conventional narrative. Though this novel is more accessible than Place de l'etoils - and it's possible the protagonist is the same person, although there are no obvious points of linkage - Modiano is far from the cooler style he adopts later in his career, when he adopts the American-detective noir style, which is far more mysterious and powerful in conveying the events of the occupation, rather than this comic style that disorients and distances the reader.

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