After Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, I was curious to read him, so I took Peter Englund’s advice and started with Missing Person (La Rue des boutiques obscures, 1978). What a let-down! It’s the story of a guy trying to figure out his past — he suffered some more or less total memory loss in the late ’40s. So he follows a trail of clues, using photographs and going around talking to people. He learns some things, but he never finds out who he was. Nor is his role in the Nazi occupation of France in WW II (apparently one of Modiano’s key motifs) ever made clear. All that’s fine (I love disorienting books), but the texture of the prose is insipid, just relaying the movements of the protagonist and the simplest impressions. I haven’t found a book from which I expected good things so disappointing since — I’m sorry to say — Norman Mailer’s Deer Park.
Jim Thompson’s The Grifters (1965) and Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) are fantastic, however, and it seems that hardly anyone is talking about them.
Just goes to show: don’t believe the hype.
Update: I’m not giving up on Modiano yet. I’ve since heard very good things about Du plus loin de l’oubli (Out of the Dark, trans. Jordan Stump) and Voyage des noces (Honeymoon, trans. Barbara Wright), and might pick up either of these in the year to come.