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

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The mystery of Modiano's narrators

Returning to Patrick Modiano - specifically, his 1978 novel, Missing Person - in prep for book group this weekend; this book was my recommendation, and I'm pretty sure it was the first Modiano novel I read. Since then, I've read a dozen or so - all of them short, so that's not such a big accomplishment - and it's interesting what I bring back to this novel, how I view it differently from my first reading (I won't go back and read any of my posts from the first time around, with I think was in 2015). Of course, as noted in several previous posts, there are universal themes and variations on these themes that run through each of Modiano novels and that he establishes in this relatively early one (I couldn't have been aware of thematic consistency of his work), notably a character in search of people or a person from the past, the noirish post-war streets and neighborhoods of Paris, associations with night clubs and night life. The novels are like detective or mystery stories, but they don't exactly fit into that genre - particularly in that they never come to a true conclusion or resolution. The protagonist simply follows a chain of clues and references that often lead him (or her) deeper into a mystery. Missing Person is prototypical; in fact, I think it's the only Modiano novel in which the protagonist is actually a sleuth. It opens with the protagonist and narrator, Guy (a real name in French, but the pun in English, the anonymity of the narrator, must be intentional), meeting with his boss, who is closing down the detective agency and retiring to Nice, but leaves the office keys to Guy. Guy's case is: discovering his own identity, as he is the victim of complete and total amnesia. Following a series of clues, he comes to think that he may have been of Spanish nobility, he may have at one time been married to a night-club singer, and so on - coming no closer to the truth as he moves along. Of course perhaps more than any other Modiano novel this one is directly allegorical: his attempt to uncover a forgotten past is analogous to the French "amnesia" about the years of Occupation, the collaboration with the Nazis, the trauma induced upon the Jews, the small-time hood who made a killing on the black market - all of which Modiano touches on in this novel (and in others).

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