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Suspended Sentences

Patrick Modiano, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Yale Univ., $16 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-0-300-19805-8

This set of three newly translated novellas from 2014 Nobel winner Modiano is propitious in timing and format: the collection’s variety gives curious readers a broad introduction to a writer of purposefully narrow scope. Modiano has facetiously admitted to repeatedly writing the same book, usually a meditative investigation winding its ways through the City of Lights to illuminate, though never fully reveal, some lingering mystery from the period of Nazi Occupation. These three atmospheric novellas demonstrate the range of reading pleasure afforded by Modiano’s approach and the dark romance of his Paris, a city “in which adventure lay right around every street corner.” “Afterimage,” the tautest, most affecting work, is a shadowy tale in which a young writer obsessively catalogs the work of a haunted photographer who “did everything he could to be forgotten.” The title novella, a child’s eye view of the colorful gang of ex-circus performers and crooks who helped raise him, relates the boy’s sense of wonder and confusion amid his charmed, if sordid, surroundings. In the slackest of the three, “Flowers of Ruin,” a sensationalist double suicide case occasions a murky investigation into the gangsters and collaborators who sported “strange names and fake noble titles” during the Occupation. Each first-person novella is also a portrait of the artist: as the protagonists pursue the faint traces of people and places that have disappeared, we witness a doggedly inquiring writer slowly emerging before our eyes. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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