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

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

What makes Little Jewel unique among Modiano's novels

Finished reading Patrick Modiano's Little Jewel (like most or maybe all of his novels, it's about 150 small pages, no more than a two-day read) and, as noted yesterday, this novel shares numerous themes and points of style with all of his other works, but there are a few ways in which Little Jewel differs (spoilers may follow, but you're not reading Modiano's novels for their plots). First, it's the only one I've read to date w/ a female protagonist and narrator - given that, it's surprising how much she (Therese, we do learn her name, I wasn't sure) shares with the typical Modiano male protagonist, to the point where at times I forgot she was a young woman - but particularly in the second half of the novel Modiano makes more of an effort to present and understand her as a woman, and not just a vehicle for his ideas, issues, and themes. We really begin to see the narrator as a woman when she takes a job as a babysitter for a mysterious and most likely criminal couple and, in a number of odd ways, she sees in the neglected child she is watching some of the trauma in her own life (to the point where we begin to wonder whether the child and her parents are real or a projection, delusion, or fantasy): parents moving from house to house, living above their means, changing names and identities, completely neglectful of their children, and, in one incident that recalls a specific trauma from Therese's childhood, the child's longing for a dog and the loss of the dog and the parent's indifference. Another way in which Little Jewel is unique or nearly so in Modiano's work: It comes closer than any of his other novels to a happy ending. "Happy, " for Modiano, is a relative term, as the mood throughout is dark and mysterious, but this novel concludes w/ the narrator giving up her obsession with finding out whether her mother is still alive, and with the narrator supported by two new friends, a girlfriend and a young man with whom she seems to be developing a romantic relationship. No other Modiano novel ends with the character gaining some kind of social inclusion. This relatively positive conclusion may have be a result of a slightly different political stance: Though Modiano includes a few oblique references that may link the vanished mother with the Nazi Occupation (e.g., Therese learns that her mother's nicknames was The Kraut - we don't know why), her sin against the child is a sin of neglect because of foiled ambition - her dancing career halted by a series of ankle injuries (another Modiano theme), not because she went into exile because of collaboration. In most Modiano novels the narrator's amnesia and search for the hidden truth obliquely references the "forgotten" Occupation years, but that's less so in Little Jewel - it's more of a story of an abusive, narcissistic, neglectful parent.

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