Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Probably the most conventional Modiano novel - but still recognizably Modiano's
Though Villa Triste (1975) is probably the most conventional of Patrick Modiano's novels, in the mode of a middle-aged man looking back at a summer romance during his coming of age, it's still recognizably a Modiano work: the focus on forgotten and forlorn locales, the interest in night clubs and soirees (but as seen from an outsider's viewpoint), the hint of the underworld. In essence, it's a novel about two fakes who fall for each other - the narrator, using the name Victor Chmora and pretending to be a Russian Count, and his girlfriend, Yvonne Jacquet, an aspiring actress. As for Yvonne, though she lives the life of a budding starlet, we learn that she's living off payment for the one (sketchy) movie she's appeared in and for which she was paid in cash; she seems to be of the society set, but in a long chapter near the end of the novel she takes Victor to have dinner w/ her uncle, an auto mechanic, and Victor learns she grew up in this remote summer resort town near in working-class poverty. The uncle warns Victor about Yvonne, telling him she's lazy and that she's much like her father - about who we know little except that he got into serious legal trouble and has disappeared of died (a trope in many other Modiano novels but usually the father of the narrator or the male protagonist). Meanwhile, Victor continues to pass himself off as a count; we learn little about his background, though there art hints that he's made enough money to support himself, at least for the summer, through some kind of forgery of rare books. His father, too, has vanished in some way - but the whole idea of his being a Count and of Russian descent is a shame. He's really a working-class Paris guy, not all that different from Yvonne (her uncle speaks with a strong Parisian accent, Victor notes - these two really are mirror images, and they each have struggled to efface their past lives). The frame of the novel is in the present (1973), so Victor is looking back at an earlier time of his life (ca 1960), but in the "present" the small resort town is decrepit and out of fashion, a way station for soldiers on leave who drink and carouse at the train station. Victor watches (or imagines?) on friend from his summer with Yvonne, a homosexual dandy named Meinthe, who hangs around the train station, possibly looking for a hookup or for some kind of trouble - his role, even near the end of the novel, is uncertain.