Illegitimate Son: On Patrick Modiano
It is unsurprising, then, that testimonials and critical assessments of Modiano’s writing should so often resort (as I have already done) to vague terms like ‘mysterious’ and ‘atmospheric’ and ‘haunting’. But the element of uncertainty is not only thematically significant on both a personal and a historical level; it also renders these two levels indistinct. Modiano’s books are not simply preoccupied with memory and the elusiveness of the past; they are troubled by the fragility and impermanence of human relationships, which are depicted as unreliable and contingent. The world of his novels is one of coincidences and fateful encounters. It is a shady world of criminal dealings, in which people are unforthcoming or evasive, origins are unknown or unclear, identities are falsified. It is a transient world of hotels and cafés – a world of passing acquaintances and broken family connections, in which people are apt to run away, commit suicide or disappear without explanation, and characters are disturbed by feelings of emptiness and loss.