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||Patrick Modiano (b. 1945)|
novelist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014 "for
the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human
destinies ..." In
his work, Patrick Modiano has mixed historical reality and fiction. A
recurring subject in his early books is the period of the Nazi
"I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me." (from Missing Person, 1978)
Modiano was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris. His
father, Albert Modiano, was a businessman. During the dark years of the
German occupation of France, he
was forced into black-market and possibly Gestapo-linked activities in
order to survive as a Jew. He never spoke of his
wartime activities. Modiano's Belgian-born mother Luisa Colpeyn
Modiano (b. 1918) worked as a chorus girl, cinema translator and
actress: she had roles in
many TV series and acted in such films as Le cercle vicieux (1960, Vicious
Circle) by Max Pécas, Bande à part
(1964, Band of Outsiders) by Jean-Luc Godard, and La mort en sautoir (1980) by Pierre
Modiano learned Flemish, his first language, from his
grandparents, who brought him up. After unhappy years at a boarding
school, he attended the prestigious Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, where his
geometry teacher was the writer Raymond Queneau, a friend of his
mother. Queneau encouraged Modiano in his literary pursuits and
introduced him to artistic circles. Modiano started writing seriously
in 1967. His first novel, La Place
was published by Gallimard. It came out after the French student riots
in May 1968, but had nothing to do
with the current political crisis. The story consisted of fractured,
hallucinatory memoirs of Raphaël
Schlemilovitch, a Jew, struggling to gain a sense of himself.
In a interview Modiano has said that the death of his brother Rudy in 1957 was the most traumatic event of his childhood and the most identifiable reason why he became a writer. From 1968 to 1982, he dedicated his books to Rudy. Modiano's father largely abandoned his family and died in the late 1970s. The "missing father" and a search for personal identity and have been central to Modiano's work. He also was neglected by his mother, who did not show much maternal affection toward her son. In De si braves garçons (1982) and La Petite Bijou (2001) Modiano portrayed negligent mothers. He once said, that he has felt as if he were writing the same book over and over again. Most likely, his father read La Place de l'Étoile. In the same year, when it was published, he disappeared. Nothing was heard of him until 1978.
Many of Modiano's novels play with autobiographical truth and
fictionalization of self. Les
boulevards de ceinture
(1972, Ring Roads), which won the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman,
told about a young Jewish boy, who searches for his missing father and
discovers the criminal underworld in wartime Paris. The beginning of
the novel leans on the nouveau
roman and Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) by
focusing on the description of physical objects.
Villa triste (1975)
explored the difficulties of remembering.
The unnamed narrator tries to recreate some fifteen years later a
summer in a resort town near Lake Geneva, where he has escaped from the
Algerian bombings in Paris. In 1976 Modiano published a
book-length interview with Emmanuel Berl, a journalist, historian and
essayist, and neighbor, in the Palais Royal, of Jean Cocteau and
Colette. Livret de famille
echoed the experiences of the writer's own life without being
autobiographical. The narrator is anonymous. "One cannot presume to
say," wrote Francis Steegmuller in his review, "that Patrick Modiano
has deliberately set out to make himself, in his books, a man of
mystery . . ."
With the film director Louis Malle Modiano wrote the
for Lacombe Lucien (1974),
about a young Frenchman, who joins the Gestapo and becomes the victiom
of his own detachment and indiffence. This controversial film, which
deconstructed the myths of the Occupation by portraying Lucien in a
fundamentally sympathetic light, was accused of reactionary politics
Modiano established his literary reputation with his early
novels. Published when the golden age of roman nouveau
was over, they were seen as a sign of the future. Some critics have
contrasted Modiano with another famous French writer of his generation,
J.M.G. Le Clézio
(b. 1940). They both have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature,
but while Le Clézio has been counted among the avant-garde writers due
to his early experimentalist approach to novel, Modiano is thought to
be more tradition-oriented due to his popularity.
Modiano's outstanding career as a writer has spanned over four decades. Ever since his breakthrough on the French literary scene Modiano has enjoyed success among both the public and the critics. Among his most discussed books in the 1990s was Dora Bruder (1997). More of a biography than a novel, it told about a Jewish girl, who was deported in 1942 from Paris to Auschwitz.
Although Modiano's work resist simple categorization, his name is generally associated with postmodernism. In spite of winning the major French literary prizes, honors, translations, and studies, Modiano has remained largely aloof from the public arena. However, he has appeared in 1982 on Bernard Pivot's talk show Apostrophes, made a cameo role in Raoul Ruiz's film Généalogie d'un crime (1997) as Catherine Deneuve's ex-husband Bob, and participated as a member of the jury at Cannes film festival in 2000. Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999), who pioneered the New Novel movement, said in 1997 at the age of ninety-seven, that Modiano was one of the young writers whom she most admired. Modiano married in 1970 Dominique Zehrfuss, writer and illustrator; they had two daughters.
For further reading: World Authors 1975-1980, ed. by Vineta Colby (1985); Patrick Modiano: pièces d'identité by Colin Nettlebeck and Penelope Hueston (1986); 'Collaboration, Alienation, and the Crisis of Identity in the Film and Fiction of Patrick Modiano' by Richard J. Golsan, in Film and Literature: A Comparative Approach to Adaptation, ed. by Wendell Aycock and Michael Schoenecke (1988); Patrick Modiano, edited by Jules Bedner (1993); Patrick Modiano by Alan Morris (1996); Paradigms of Memory. The Occupation and Other Hi/stories in the Novels of Patrick Modiano, edited by Martine Guyot-Bender and William VanderWolk (1998); A Self-Conscious Art: Patrick Modiano's Postmodern Fictions by Akane Kawakami (2001); A Riffaterrean Reading of Patrick Modiano's La Place de L'étoile by Charles O'Keefe (2005); Patrick Modiano, edited by John E. Flower (2007)