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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Modiano's narrators and their attempts to recover the past

No doubt Patrick Modiano is a throw-back writer - all of his novels (I've read about 15 of them) are about the narrator's or the protagonist's attempts to piece together information about the past, generally his youth in post-war Paris, based on documents (old notebooks of work, such as the eponymous Black Notebook from the 2012 novel), artifacts (photos, letters, post cards), interviews, and bits of memory, usually evoked by roaming the streets of Paris, usually in out-of-the-way neighborhoods. Of course time, and technology, are catching up w/ Modiano: in his early novels, from the 1960s o 70s, artifacts such as city directories and old phone books were essential to his search for lost memories (in one novel the narrator lugs around a steamer trunk filled with directories!); The Black Notebook is kind of quaint and almost comic in the narrator's reliance on old typewritten police reports and notebook entries as he searches for the woman, known as Dannie, who vanished from his life in the 1960s. He's never heard of the www? Of Google? No, Modiano stays true to the quaint methodology he has established. Black Notebook, as noted in yesterday's post, is among the most concise and focused of all Modiano novels; the narrator is driving by one goal: What happened to Dannie? And in his search for information about her, he deals with only 2 other characters - unlike many other Modiano novels that depend on a chain of characters, each of whom refers the narrator to someone else. This won't be much of a spoiler but, as in all Modiano novels, we never learn precisely what happened to Dannie, how or why, after months in which they seemed to be a serious couple, she simply vanishes from his life. What we do learn is that Modiano is a naive narrator - it's a first-person narrative, but we know more than Modiano does - not more facts, but we can piece together things the he evidently cannot. He cannot for some reason comprehend that Dannie is part of some underworld ring, centered on a # of thugs who'd emigrated from Morocco to Paris. He can't see that she's at best a thief and more likely a call girl who's being run by the Moroccans? (He wonders why he often meets her at an apartment building, and she exits by the back door, carrying a wad of franc notes; he wonders why at times she shows up at his apartment at 4 a.m., he never seriously thinks about how she can be a student but never attend clases or study or what she may due to earn money, and so on.) ut his failure to recognize Dannie's underworld connections makes his story even more poignant; at their time of life, he was like a naive child (she was not - and we do learn that she was quite a bit older than he), so the time he is trying to recover - first love, first years of independence in Paris), were for others a time of fear, criminal behavior, and a duplicity.

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