So, there is no denying the truth that the winner of the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française, the Prix Goncourt, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature and the Nobel Prize for Literature Jean Patrick Modiano, born in a Sephardic family of Jewish origin in France at the close of the Second World War, has been able enough to show his mastery over playing with his readers’ minds through hallucinating atmosphere hovering around the remorseful past engulfed in a series of paranoiac memories.
Throughout Modiano’s Decalogy comprising the ten novellas ‘Patrick Modiano has tried in an intention to shield himself from his own discovery through the protagonist Raphaël Schlemilovitch in ‘The place of the star’ with anti-Semitic consciousness in different places with different personalities like Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka, Charlie Chaplin, Prussian Edmund Kant, Danish Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus ,Jean Paul Satre, Marcel Proust, etc along with fictional characters; in ‘The night watch’ through the unnamed protagonist with hypocritical personality surviving a lifestyle led by a circle of gangsters and collaborators; in ‘Ring Roads’ through the unnamed protagonist with pangs of remorse searching for his Jew father having been engaged in illegal works with criminals of different classes; in‘Inside the Sad House’ through the protagonist who calls himself Victor Chmara Modiano reaches back through memory to explore the long-term effects of the Nazi Occupation of France. Similarly, in Villa Triste, he attempts, in his distinctively quiet way, to wrangle with another big national question the Algerian War, the reverberations of which inevitably reach the small French lakeside town near Switzerland where the narrator, an anxious, roving, stateless young man of eighteen, arrives in the early 1960s. In ‘Missing Person’ through the protagonist having two assumed names who tries to reconstruct his old self using unreliable, fragmentary evidence such as old photographs, letters, a magazine, a book he receives from different persons he interrogates; in ‘The Search Warrant’ through the protagonist Dora Bruder,a Jewish girl, who runs away from the convent school .Being obsessed with his inclination to the search of that girl, Modiano has gradually started having the impression of walking in Dora Bruder’s footsteps and coming close to her in time and space.In ‘Paris Nocturne’ through the unnamed protagonist who starts recapturing all the past events occurred at different places of Paris and blurred with accidental traumata. His pensive account indicates that he is looking back on an accident that he had at some unspecified moment a long time ago when he was about to turn twenty-one; in ‘Pedigree’ through his own role as the protagonist who expresses his unfulfilled childhood in true words without any sham. In case of writing his own pedigree Modiano could not be artistic. Such artless dissemination has made him great. But very deep in his heart he is still craving for the lost days and nights of his childhood he couldn’t enjoy;in ‘In the Café of lost youth ’ through the protagonist Jacqueline Choureau, née Delanque who meanders through life, on a restless quest to an unknowable destination, accumulating a cocaine habit and a disastrous marriage, and frequenting Le Condé, where a rabble of failed writers, world-weary academics and dissatisfied students are all in search of the same indefinable something; in ‘So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood’ through the protagonist Jean Daragane, an aging and isolated novelist ,who has built up a life of total solitude within the stillness of his Paris apartment receives a phone call at four o’clock in the afternoon from a man saying he found the writer’s address book. After getting almost habituated to loneliness he did not expect any kind of interference. While dozing on the sofa at the far end, shielded from the sunlight, these ringing sounds which he had been unaccustomed to hearing for a long time went on continuously. So he lost his temper. But immediately after ringing off without waiting for the other person to reply, he realises his misbehavior.
Because of this, Modiano’s protagonists exist in a world of perpetual existential emergency in which they are desperate to recapture a state of equilibrium within themselves. They count on their memory and the memory of others to help them do it.
This is how such mastermind as Patrick Modiano with some sort of national-cum-personal history being prominent in every protagonist’s monologues has been successful in his artistic endeavour to make his readers feel how the panic-stricken generation under the Gestapo horrible holocaust has been traumatized every moment with sense of anti-Semitism, hypocritical disguise, twinge of conscience beneath their stream of consciousness resulting in ceaseless pangs of paranoia; thus leading them ultimately to a state of delirium where one can just prattle recalling remorseful past.
Through the refinement of his memorial mode Modiano intends to bring the same story to light to enrich his readers with a new look visualized in each new book. In world literature regarded as the most repetitive novelist Patrick Modiano nurtures an intention to write all his novels as a serial form, like a screen print. “You advance, you say the same thing, and you say something else, your orchestra expands itself,” his friend Louis Malle,with whom Modiano has co-written screenplay Lacombe,Lucien,once wrote to him, in a sensitive manner. Actually Malle did not have any idea about the sustainability of Modiano’s modes of variations on a constant theme and technique: the panic-stricken and traumatized history of the occupation, investigated through a blurred prism of time frames. And so the Nobel-curious readers of this collection of ten novels—written in French between 1968 and 2014, and translated in English between 1974 and 2016 by different European translators — should not be surprised at the way each novel superimposes itself on the others. Such is the mode of Modiano’s integrity— simply Modish!
Generally Modiano writes short, easy-to-read novels (most are around 200 pages long, some shorter) with big themes: memory, loss, identity, seeking. They are easily approachable and satisfying to read. Despite this, he is still not widely read in the United States. At the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize last October, many of his books were unavailable in English translation and, Missing Person, the novel for which he won the Prix Goncourt in 1978, had sold only 2,425 copies in the United States. The past—with his enriched literary career in France, Modiano was still an unknown figure to the whole western world of literature, let alone to the whole world— will now change. Peter Englund, the Nobel Academy’s permanent secretary, emphasizes ‘Modiano’s being a very accessible writer.’ saying:
“He is not at all difficult to read. He looks very simple in a sense because he has a very refined, simple, straight, clear style. You open a page and see that it is Modiano, very straight, short sentences, no frills … but it is very, very sophisticated in that simplicity.”
The availability of his work in English has now been largely solved through the industrious works of several talented translators, and more of his novels are becoming available on an almost monthly basis. Thanks to the European translators like Frank Wynne, Caroline Hillier, Patricia Wolf, Mark Pollizzotti, Phoebe Weston-Evans, Euan Cameron, Joanna Kilmartin, John Cullen, Daniel Weissbort etc the attention of the literary connoisseurs has easily been drawn to Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano whose French tongue would allow him to be a writer just within the European boundary!
Finally it is to concur with what William Boyd said about Patrick Modiano in his introduction to ‘The Occupation Trilogy’. To add few concluding remarks to my introduction to ‘Modiano’s Decalogy’ I have nothing but to repeat what he rightly said: ‘…Modiano became a modish and cult author at the time. Reading these novels anew for this introduction, I was still struck forcibly by this 1960s free-wheeling, free-form disregard for the well-constructed solidities of the traditional novel. Their tone, their style and their values are very much creatures of the time of their writing.’
Mohammad Khabir Uddin