On Patrick Modiano’s deliberate obscurantism

Modiano_postcard_photo A. MahmoudDominic Green at The New Criterion:

The typical Modiano novel begins with a mystery of origins and identity, and proceeds by passivity and vagueness. Sometimes, the story terminates in a tragedy of life foreshortened. Sometimes the track runs full circle, as though life is a series of improvisations, each designed to keep you where you are. Either way, the “force of circumstances” determines the outcome.

The premise of a Modiano mystery mimics that of a detective novel, but the execution eschews the vulgarity of a traditional detective plot.Voyages des noces, translated into English as Honeymoon (1995), begins with the narrator, Jean B., in a hotel bar.

A woman had committed suicide in one of the hotel rooms two days before, on the eve of the fifteenth of August. The barman was explaining that they had called an ambulance, but in vain. He had seen the woman in the afternoon. She had come into the bar. She was on her own. After the suicide, the police had questioned him. He hadn’t been able to give them many details. A brunette.

Instead of solving the crime like Sam Spade, Jean leaves his wife and child, pretends to fly to Rio, and then holes up in Paris. There, he reimagines the movements of a young refugee couple that he had met twenty years earlier, during the German occupation. The mystery turns out to be existential.

more here.