Random Thoughts

More about Patrick Modiano

... a little mystery

by Ed Boyd

Actually, these comments are more about the translators of Modiano’s writings from French to English. “Honeymoon” is translated by Barbara Wright. In speaking of a hand held light to illuminate what is before, Wright uses torch as the device. She does not make any further comment about the writing, apparently to prefer to have the writing to speak for itself.

Mark Polizzotti, in an Introduction: Missing has a lot to say, maybe too much. His comments are from “Suspended Sentences: three novellas”. Polizzotti begins, “A feeling of indirection pervades many of Patrick Modiano’s writings-one can’t escape a sense of haziness, as if everything were shrouded in gauze or viewed from a Vaselined lens.” “…Modiano has composed a haunting trilogy of love and loss, pitch-perfect in the quiet determination to elucidate the riddle of human identity. Writing, at its best, is a process of discovery a way of both piercing a mystery that, by nature, cannot be clarified.” In a way, this seems to sum up Modiano’s writing, but maybe it had been better to give us a chance to discover this for ourselves.

I have other concerns with Mark Polizzotti besides that he uses flashlight, not torch. Polizzotti fiddles with the titles of these stories without seeming to consult the author. He changes Remise de peine, a stay of sentence, to Suspended Sentences”. For me, a stay of sentence works fine, no need to change. Simarily, Chien de printemps ,“dog of spring” I think is a great title. The change “Afterimage” is a Polizzotti change not Modiano’s, so it seems.

In all of Modiano’s he exasperatedly, comes to no conclusion. The words just flow along in misty air, very delicate for all to see. “I met Frances Jansen when I was nineteen, in the spring of 1964, and today I want to relate the little I know about him.” And just a few lines down below he tells of Jenson in such a way that you think you will never know Jenson. “On the morning we met, I remember asking him, out of politeness, (Jenson is a photographer) what he considered the best kind of camera.

He shrugged his shoulders and admitted, all things considered, he preferred those small black plastic cameras you can buy in a toy store, the kind that squirt water when you press the trigger.” In the 45 pages that follow you never can learn much about Jenson.

On page 14 tells of Colette Laurent that figured in a number of Jenson’s photos. “Not long ago I tried to imagine Colette’s first day in the capital and I felt sure it was much like today, with long stretchers of clear sky alternating with sudden showers. Wind from the Atlantic shakes the tree branches and turns umbrellas inside out. Pedestrians huddle in doorways. You can hear the seagulls crying. Sunlight glistens on the wet sidewalks near the Quai  ’Austerlitz and on the walls around the Jardin des Plantes. She walked for the first time through a city sluiced out and laden with promise. She had just arrived at the Gare de Lyon.” Can you hear the music in these lines?  They say a lot about Modiano’s feelings for Paris.

I have read only two books by Modiano but in these two I find nothing close to anything erotic. Not a speck. This is surprising for a Frenchman.

Patrick Modiano’s writing is luminously obscure. Maybe he was influenced by the French philosopher, Gabriel Marcell who said somewhere, “…problems must be solved but mysteries are to be enjoyed unsolved.”


February 6, 2015


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