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Archive for the 'Orthofer' Category

Nobel thriller

Patrick Modiano surprises

January 1st, 2016


After the Circus
by Patrick Modiano
translated by Mark Polizzotti
published in France 1992

After the Circus seems like a very simple story. The Modiano-like narrator relates events from when he was eighteen; in contrast to many of this author’s works, in which he often (re)considers and comments on events and his actions of the past from a later or present-day perspective, Modiano barely intrudes on the timeline here, making for even greater immediacy to the story than usual. He does describe revisiting one of the locales, café, from his story at one point, ten years later, around 1973; once outside: “I stupidly broke down in sobs,” a rare emotional outburst from Modiano’s otherwise so passive and passionless alter-ego-protagonists. This prefigures just how devastating the blow to come to the eighteen-year-old in modianothe story proper is (a sense further reinforced by the fact that the story is only finally written by Modiano when he has distanced himself from events by another two decades, After the Circus coming out only in 1992).

The opening of the novel already suggests vague menace and unease, the young narrator being questioned by the police. He doesn’t know why, and when he asks at the end of the interrogation is simply told “Your name was in someone’s address book” — without being told whose. The names he is questioned about are ones he doesn’t recognize, so he is left with no idea what they think he might be mixed up in.

The narrator is a young man of barely-formed personal identity. He’s escaped from six hellish years at boarding school, with hardly any family support system; his father is in Switzerland — occasionally in contact if often barely understood over the telephone line — and the young man shares an apartment (that soon has to be vacated) with a man named Grabley. Grabley calls him Obligado — a nickname — and it is only very late in the novel that we learn his actual name, Jean. “I was struck that she’d call me by my name,” he says when it is finally revealed, a so-personal marker that only in an extreme situation (“Please, I’m begging you,” she pleads) does it come up.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Orthofer | Link to this Entry


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