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

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Some differences between Villa Triste and other Modiano novels

As readers of this blog may have noted, I have read most of Patrick Modiano’s novels and continue reading as new (or old, actually) ones find their way into English translation and library shelves. Started reading his 1975 novel, Villa Triste, which in some ways is unique in his oevre. For one thing, he sets the novel in the Haute-Savoie province, on the shore of Lake Lemans (?), which is part of the French-Swiss border; his other novels may include some excursions but they are generally set in Paris or in the Paris suburbs (though the Swiss border is always an alluring prospect, especially in Missing Person, as the characters look to Switzerland as a possible refuge during the Nazi Occupation). Second, it’s not set during the Occuation at all, and barely even references that era; rather it’s set in the near present (the early 1970s), with the narrator visiting this once-famous, now decrepit resort on the lake and recollecting his time spent there as an 18-year-old, in 1960. Yes, as in many other Modiano novels the narrator wanted to be near the Swiss border to escape a war, but in this instance it’s the Algerian wars (I assume there must have been a draft or call-up that he was hoping to avoid). In no other Modiano novel I’ve read so far is the narrator as cool and suave as figure as in this one; somehow, he’s able to support himself and live alone in this resort town – we have no idea (halfway through) – about his source of income, about his family (he notes that his father vanished, at least from his life, during his early childhood – this is one of the few echoes of other Modiano novels, w/ the father seemingly and mysteriously engaged in underworld activities), or about his schooling (he’s 18 and not in school and not even thinking about an education). The narrator falls in with a beautiful young woman, Yvette, about his age but much more sophisticated, and her friend, at 27-year-old homosexual and roue. They are apparently involved in a movie, soon to go through final editing and distribution, and so the introduce the narrator to a much more sophisticated life of Gatsby-like parties, elaborate hotel suites, etc. As the novel begins w/ us looking back from a 15-year vantage, we know that this phase of his life, like the faded casino and resort, came to nothing but ruin – we don’t yet know why or how. As in all of his other works, Modiano, like the great German writer, Sebald, establishes a mood of darkness, obliteration, and the sense of lost time.

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