Patrick Modiano Joyce Carleton - Essay

Joyce Carleton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Half fact, half fiction, [Livret de famille] is a search for roots, an autobiography in which very precise data of the author's life are fitted like pieces into a patchwork of imaginary memories….

Patrick [the narrator] was born in Paris just as World War II was ending. His Belgian mother and his French Jewish father had survived the Occupation without proper identity papers…. [Most] of the people and places he recalls seem strangely unattached, without much substantial grounding…. [Patrick] lets a certain air of mystery, of the indefinite, pervade his narrative throughout….

Each chapter in this work is a separate story, complete in itself. The book is very enjoyable reading, both funny and sad, and deceptively easy. It is remarkable how Patrick Modiano can anchor his narrative in precise facts, specific dates and places, real people (at least many of them are, one assumes), and yet leave his reader with the haunting feeling of the tenuous, unsubstantial, even dreamlike quality of persons and things….

This book contains echoes of another Modiano work, Les Boulevards de ceinture…. The 1972 novel takes place in wartime Paris, as do parts of Livret de famille, and describes a search through the curfew-dimmed streets of the capital. Thus Patrick Modiano seems to emerge as a young author particularly haunted by the grey years of the nineteen-forties.

Joyce Carleton, "Creative Works: 'Livret de famille'," in The French Review (copyright 1979 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. LII, No. 4, March, 1979, p. 673.