Thursday, June 16, 2016
The nature of plot in Modiano's fictoin, and his major themes
The plot structure of a Patrick Modiano novel involves not tension, crisis, resolution - but a gradula unfolding, a sequence of events that follow the path of a sinuous journey, so that the end point, by the time you get there, may have no apparent relation w/ the opening of the novel other than that a sequence of events, recollections, memories, and discoveries led you from one point to another - case in point So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood. I looked back at the opening chapters, which involve an elderly writer getting a call from a stranger who says he's found the writer's missing address book; when they meet so that the caller can return the book the caller says he has questions about one of the entries in the book, and it turns out - coincidence? - that he's read the writer's books and is investigating a murder that may be connected to the writer's first novel - and we're off. But this novel, as it turns out, never makes an attempt to solve the "mystery" how the caller managed to find the address book that happens to have a key clue to his own investigation. By the end, the caller (and his girlfriend) have vanished from the narrative, which by the latter part of the novel focuses on the writer's attempt to learn about the fate of a woman, Annie Astrand, who took him in when he was child during the Occupation - and we're in the heart of a major theme of Modiano's works: a child abandoned by his mother (an actor or dancer) and ignored by his father (a small-time gangster) and left in the care of a woman with a shady history, associations w/ gamblers and night-club owners, the child left more or less on his own. In this novel, the woman, Annie, flees Occupied France, heading for Italy, but somewhere near the border she realizes she cannot bring the child with her and she leaves him alone in a village near the border. Again and again, Modiano wrestles, in various guises, with this theme of abandonment, always against a backdrop of the Occupation, with many opportunists and collaborators (like his father) - a time which is in effect obliterated from the charater's memory, much like this shameful epoch in French history. His search for his past, very much unlike Proust's, for example, is an unearthing of secrets and shame.