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

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Thoughts on the nature of memory, of narrative, and why it's worth re-reading Modiano

I may have been the only book-group member who liked Patrick Modiano's Missing Person, and I think that's in part because I've read a # of his novels - it becomes increasingly evident to me that his work constitutes one magnum opus (is that true in a sense of all writers?) and I note, from looking back at earlier posts, that I liked Missing Person much more on 2nd reading than on first (it was the first of his novels I'd read). So I did encourage fellow readers, if they liked Missing Person even a little, to try one more of Modiano's works to see how he develops the same theme with minor variations, additions, and amendments. That said, we had a good discussion of the book, with general agreement that it's about the French "amnesia" regarding the yeas of occupation and that the ending might have been better, if more conventional, had it ended with the disappearance of Denise in the snowstorm at the Swiss border. JoRi made the point that you can try to keep a running log or list of Guy's series of "discoveries" about his missing or forgotten identities, but that it actually can't be done because there are internal inconsistencies. Is this the novelist's flaw, or part of his design? I would say the latter, in that part of his objective is to keep us off balance, never to give us reassurance and clarity (which explains his thinking on the unconventional ending rather than the symbolic and expected conclusion of vanishing into whiteness). We noted that at the key discussion, when at last one of the characters recognizes Guy and addresses him as McEvoy: one would expect that he would come clean and say, please help me, I've lost my memory - but, no, he goes along w/ the discussion, playing at "being" McEvoy, seeing what info he can elicit from the woman who seems to know him. We also were struck at the change in tone once Guy actually does (seem to) have reconstituted his memory: the Megeve section, in the Alps on the Swiss border, is far more conventional - like a truly and fully recollected series of events rather than events seen partially as if through a (mental) fog. I talked for a while about how all of our memories are actually partial and fragmentary and stirred or evoked by sensory cues - and all writers (esp French writers) know this: We are children of Proust, in that regard.

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