Friday, November 20, 2015

La Place de L'Etoile

Satire hardly does justice to the savage commentary of Patrick Modiano's debut novel as he tears apart France's collaboration during the war through the eyes of a Nazi Jew, Raphael Schlemilovitch. A self-hating Jew reflects France's profound anti-semitism as the narrator flits through time and hallucinatory reincarnations ranging from wartime to present day (present day being the 1960s, when the novel appeared).

The narration leaves the reader dizzy and just holding on for the ride as Modiano/Schlemilovitch slashes through every moral and ethical taboo to shock and provoke. While it has the guise of an intellectual novel, sprinkled with literary references that even few French readers could follow, it is in reality a deeply emotional novel, as Modiano probes into our subconscious fears.

It is a compelling read, a roller-coaster of impressions that leaves you unsettled and disoriented. It is powerful literature and a Nobel Prize well-earned. Despite the lost continuums of time and space, the novel works because there is enough precise detail of buildings, rooms, landscapes, cities and people that it remains very visual. In fact, in his introduction, William Boyd gives Modiano credit for influencing the various waves of French filmmakers, such as Alan Resnais.

Modiano is Kafka with French elan, and a laser focus on the anti-semitism that continues to roil French society. This is the first of the Occupation Trilogy, three short novels published in a single volume, but I will read and review them separately.

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