Patrick Modiano Introduction - Essay


Modiano, Patrick 1945–

Modiano is a French novelist. In his novels he often explores the nature of identity through the experience of a protagonist-narrator involved in a quest for self-knowledge. He coauthored with Louis Malle the screenplay Lacombe Lucien. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)

[In Les boulevards de ceinture (Ring Roads)] much is mist, a mist not of memory or dream but of the narrator's struggle to create out of a few rags and tatters of experience a comprehensible picture of his father…. [The narrator's] journey into the past brings him very little; it stands rather for an urgent longing to identify himself with his father, and it brings him closer to plotting reasons for his disquiet and his curiosity than to any answers.

The figure of the narrator's father … becomes no clearer. By contrast, the focus becomes stronger to the point of caricature on the father's associates….

These sinister companions, and the murky and dangerous period in which the happenings are set (probably, though this is never stated in so many words, the Occupation), combine to make the narrator's father himself more sinister, more shadowy and in the end more pitiful…. The book's method, in fact, is both delicate and cunning: it is to sidle up to subjects of mystery and horror, indicating them without broaching them….

And in this subtle caution, no doubt, lie both the strength and weakness of Les boulevards de ceinture…. To the extent that its intention is to evoke rather than to explore, it is certainly a success. To approach nearer to the core of the narrator's obsessions would have dispelled the strangeness, and the book's subject is after all his uncertainties.

"Shadow Play," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3693, December 15, 1972, p. 1521.