Patrick Modiano ANDREW J. McKENNA - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Rue des Boutiques Obscures] continues the thematics of self-discovery [begun in Modiano's earlier Livret de famille] in a resolutely fictional mode. Guy Roland, the first-person narrator in this story, becomes a detective when, as a victim of amnesia, he consults another one who gives him a name and takes him into the business. Such thematic redundancy suffices to indicate that this is no ordinary "roman policier." In fact, the manner in which the author exploits and explores the conventions of the detective novel to a larger purpose is the singular attraction of this slim volume.

The novel begins as the detective goes out in search of his own past. We are led by the narrator through a labryinthine series of deftly concise conversations, ruminations, documents and inquiries. Through it all we return to the question: how to retrace a life, a personal history, through the palimpsest of reality? (p. 317)

[Modiano's style] tends to be quite straightforward, simple, without luster, as befits the classics in his chosen genre. Yet his narrative technique is skillfully adjusted to the problem he has set for his protagonist and his reader together, and it evokes a problematic experience of ordinary language. The reader is struck by the anomaly of names, the furtiveness of what we call facts, the strange, silent interstices that compose the natural breathing space of routine communication….

Of the conclusion to this novel there is much to be said that cannot be said out of respect for the suspense which is the key to this kind of fiction. Modiano gives that key an interesting new twist which makes his work both more and less than a detective novel. Either way, Modiano's text raises interesting questions about detective fiction in its relation to fiction in general, and still more imposing questions of the sort that narrative fiction directs to life itself. (p. 318)

Andrew J. McKenna, "Reviews: 'Rue des boutiques obscures,'" in The French Review (copyright 1979 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. LIII, No. 2, December, 1979, pp. 317-18.