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

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The originating point in Modiano's career

Patrick Modiano's 1968 debut novel Place de l'etoile is by turns fascinating disturbing repulsive and frustrating. It becomes not more clear as you proceed to the end (like most of his work to follow it's short just 116 pp) it becomes less rather than more coherent , which is by intent - it's a 1960s mash of narrative Sykes and voices sometimes in first person sometimes in 2nd sometimes seeming to take place during the occupation sometimes afterwards..  The narrator Raphael Schlimovitz (sp?) sometimes seems to be a young man sometimes not. There are few constants except that the over arching theme is the French relationship to its Jewish population in particular during the occupation and in particular to Jewish artists and intellectuals. The narrator goes through many guises but the constants seem to be that he was a collaborator during the occupation trying to gain favor w the Nazis as a cooperating Jew - and of course Modiano's references the Dreyfus case and many Jewish-French artists and intellectuals who identified as French rather than Jewish Proust and Celine in particular after the war now cognizant as to how it fared for Jewish collaborators - not well - Raphael embarks on various repulsive missions of vengeance particularly capturing young French women and selling them into slavery! Caught in that scheme he disembarks for Israel where he is sent to a sort of prison or boot camp where he and other European Jews are tortured or killed. Worse than the Nazis. What you have to ask by the end is the point of all this? Modiano has established a theme but in this novel just sensationalized it - i wished throughout that he would just tel a conventional narrative no matter how extreme but at least be consistent in time scheme and narrative voice and facts on the ground. It is better to be able to read this novel looking back over the voice that Modiano established in later years to see it as the originating point for a literary career that would become much more elegant and less sensational and willfully idiosyncratic.

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