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

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The maturation and simplificaiton of Modiano's narrative style

The Black Notebook, the most recently translation of Patrick Modiano's 20 or so novels (2012 original publication date) shows, at least in the first half, a maturation and simplification of Modiano's style. All of the recognizable elements of his work are still there: a protagonist or narrator in search of his past, using scraps of memory and a few artifacts in his pursuit; the association with lowlifes, petty criminals, nightclubs, cafes; the obsession with obscure and dingy Paris neighborhoods; the proliferation of names of streets and villages; lots of perambulation by night; a mysterious woman who was very important to the narrator at an earlier stage of his life but who has disappeared; a narrator with a troubled upbringing filled with dislocation and small crimes, dead phone #s and dead ends - just to name a few. What makes this novel work especially well is the simplification; in many other Modiano novels a clue will lead to one character, and that character will lead to another, and so forth - and though the narrative is appealing as a series of events we lose concentration. Similarly, in some earlier novels the narrator will piece together his past through the unlikely discovery of a series of clues, such as a photograph from long ago that helps him identify someone he's seeking - again, mysterious, compelling, but improbable, when you examine it closely. The Black Notebook is unique in Modiano's work in two regards: First, there are really just three characters of any significance, the narrator, girlfriend of many years past (Dannie), and his rival for Dannie's affections, the smalltime hood Abaghouri (?). Second, the only "clue" the narrator works from is the eponymous notebook - a book in which he'd made minor notations throughout the years he's trying to recollect, and some of his notations make sense to him, some don't - all this very believable, in fact likely, in the life of a writer. At about the halfway point, the tension builds effectively: we know that Dannie has been involved in some kind of serious crime, that she's using a fake ID and a false name; that she's beholden to Abaghouri and some of his tough associates for some unknown reason. In 2 unusual scenes she, with the narrator in tow, in effect burglarizes the homes to two people she had lived with or known. A missing element, however, is the war and the Nazi occupation - always in the background in almost every Modioano work, but not this one, at least not yet - thought it's possible that Dannie's past criminal behavior may have had to do w/ collaboration.

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