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

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Knausgaard and Modiano - similarities, differences

Thinking for a moment about the differences between two writers whom I've been reading pretty extensively over the past year: Karl Ove Knausgaard (I think I have more posts on him than on any other writer) and Patrick Modiano, each an obsessed writer, each in his own way. KOK tells the story of his life in 6 near-autobiographical volumes and gives us every detail, every recalled moment or conversation, all the friends and lovers and family members, every emotion and blunder, even - especially - the most painful, humiliating, and embarrassing - he's far beyond shame, and writes as if he has to unearth these memories, give them shape and form, that is, put them into language, almost as if to purge the pain from his soul. Modiano tells the story of his life in veiled form, crytically; his novels are far from memoirs, they are highly stylized and almost all written in the style of urban noir detective fiction (they are not, however, mysteries or genre writing); taken as a whole, we get a sense in broad outline of the themes of Modiano's life, as they appear repeatedly, though always in slightly different form, with different surface and topical details, different nomenclature, in every novel: a child (often w/ an Italian name) in Paris during the Occupation, mother an actor or dancer who more or less abandons him to earn a living on the road, leaving hm w/ another family that's artistic or bohemian and not particularly responsible - often involved w/ gambling and horse racing, night clubs and sports cars. The father is on the periphery, a gangster of some sort engaged in black-market activity. Often, the father steps in and "rescues" the son, and the son is sent to a boarding school. The boy spends much of early youth on the Left Bank and eventually becomes a writer in Paris, very peripatetic. It seems that all of Modiano's fiction is an attempt to recall and to tell this story, but he never does so in a straightforward confessional manner - his past is fog-shrouded and elusive, which I think his part of his message: not only that the past is often beyond recovery, but also that the French have buried their past, particularly the years of the Occupation.

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