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

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The recurring themes in Modiano's fiction

It's almost comic how the same elements arise again and again and Patrick Modiano's novels, as if he's working different versions of the same narrative in a series of short novels that span a half-century. It's amazing to me that I keep finding this story, so elusive and suggestive, fascinating and engaging but there you have it; I'm a reader who has little taste for fantasy, surrealism, and so-called experimental fiction, and maybe that's what makes Modiano's fiction so compelling to me: he has the strange and rare capacity to tell a story that seems to be a straightforward if complex narrative - with the exception of his first two novels, generally in the mode of a noir detective narrative - but there are always some inexplicable elements that make the work feel just a little out of reach, as if he is dealing with an obsession or delusion rather than with a true narrative plot. I'm reading now his 2014 novel, So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood (an accurate translation of the French title, for once), about an elderly writer living alone and in some degree of solitude, roused from sleep by his phone (which rarely rings) and it's a man who says he has found the writer's address book, and they make arrangements to meet for the return of the book. The writer finds the man's voice to be threatening, for some reason. It turns out that the man - who found the book at a train station (the writer confirms that he lost it while traveling) wants to know about one of the entries in the book because it's the name of a person he's investigating for a book he's writing about a murder; turns out the name is a brief reference in the writer's first novel - and he, at first, can't recall anything about the name, but later recollects that the man was a casual encounter who'd claimed to be a friend of the writer's mother. And so on. It all kind of makes sense, except when you stop to wonder: what are the chances that a found address book would have the name of the very person under investigation? Zero. So did the man steal the book, like a pickpocket? No evidence for that. It's just part of the labyrinthine world of a Modiano novel, in which the plot includes man odd connections and overlapping of layers of time and memory - much like the complex street maps of Paris that fascinate Modiano and play a predominant role in his fiction.

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