18 January 2016

Patrick Modiano: Les Boulevards de ceinture | Ring Roads (1972)

I've only read two Modiano novels apart from this, and since his Nobel Prize for Literature win I've wondered – there being so many excellent living French authors around – if he actually deserved it. OK, most writers pen the same book over and over again, but isn't Modiano, with his obsessions with detective tales, Jewishness, the streets of Paris, (multiple) identity, etc, well, just a bit too samey?

Les Boulevards de ceinture (translated into English as Ring Roads) has me thinking though. The novel begins (and incidentally ends) with a photograph of the interior of Le Clos-Foucré restaurant in a village on the edge of the Fontainebleau woods. This photograph morphs into the living characters in it, the main ones being the dodgy publisher Murraille, the dodgy ex-legionnaire Marcheret, and the dodgy fat man who now calls himself Deyckecaire.

In fact, in the Occupation period of Modiano's novel it's difficult to find anyone who's not dodgy. The narrator calls himself Serge Alexandre because he's concealing his true identity from his father, who is in fact Deyckecaire (who's also using a false name). His father used to sell fraudulent stamps, and then graduated to lots of other things when found out, and was with his son when he used to forge signatures and dedications on books to make large sums of money.

That was when the narrator was seventeen, before his father tried to push him under a train, and has been tracking his father down after ten years because he's forgiven him. Hard to swallow this forgiveness? Yes of course, if you take it literally, and it's hard to swallow the fact that the father doesn't recognise the son after ten years, and did the narrator really murder Lestandi?

Many questions come easily to the surface in this hallucinatory, almost surreal work in which a lot is not what it seems to be, where much is imbued with the substance of dreams. There's definitely more to Modiano than first appearances suggest, and I shall be looking further into his odd world.

My other posts on Patrick Modiano:

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Patrick Modiano: L'Horizon
Patrick Modiano: La Petite Bijou
Patrick Modiano: Rue des boutiques obscures | Missing Person

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