Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Do all Modiano's novels constitue one single masterwork?
All Patrick Modiano novels are similar, which is part of what makes his work so great - it's as if his entire literary output, 20+ relatively short novels, constitutes a single, enormous master-work. Not that you'd want to read any such single work in one span - it helps that there's a year or so separating each Modiano publication, although we're seeing a cascade now of his work in English translation, following his 2014(?) Nobel Prize. Little Jewel, from 2001 and recently in English from Yale UP, is a case in point, with one striking difference: It may be the only one of his works w/ a female protagonist and narrator, the eponymous Little Jewel (La Petite Bijoux), the name her mother called her in youth (not sure we ever learn her actual name). As in most other Modiano novels, these are the element: a mysterious amnesia about events of childhood, with memories restored in adulthood by certain sensations, objects (such as a photograph, a scarp of writing, a small memento), a glimpse of an unfamiliar neighborhood); unusual Parisian and suburban locales, often near railroad stations, on the periphery of Paris, sometimes near odd landmarks (in this novel, near an amusement part and the training grounds for Paris mounted police) with man odd place names (all that I've bothered to check turn out to be real); abandonment by a parent during the war, often with the child's being shuttled off to relatives or family friends in the countryside; connections to nightclubs, dancers, and lurid entertainers; a possible parental connections to mobsters, particularly those who profited during the Occupation. I also note that the Occupation is always present even by its absence, as if the amnesia that characters experience and, over the course of each novel, that the try to eradicate through near-obsessive investigation of the past, is analogous to the national amnesia about complicity with the Nazis and the Occupation government. All this is present in Little Jewel, a prototypical Modiano novel, as the novel opens with the title character observing a woman at Metro station who looks exactly like her mother, whom she'd been told had died 12 years previously in Morocco; LJ follows the woman over the course of several days to learn about her, while she also takes on a job as a babysitter for a young couple who, like her mother, are transients who are bizarrely indifferent to the fate and well-being of their young daughter