Gilded apartments

Patrick Modiano

Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano’s Occupation Trilogy is set during the Nazi occupation of Paris, and superficially he is compared to Proust because he is using memory to fictionalise this past, a past that was, as he saw it, not being remembered properly but being repressed, especially when it came to French collaboration with the Nazis.

But I don’t know if Proust is the right comparison, because while detailed, Modiano’s fiction is akin to being whirled too quickly through a modern art gallery. The details are blurred and it is hard to sort them into some sort of sense, rather than being there in order to provide orientation. The detail is there to overwhelm rather than provide material for reflection. Modiano is making a moral point I think about the occupation by portraying the time as a dizzying, confused time. He mixes references to torture with references to art, literature and gilded apartments, in order, it seems, to suggest that at the time things didn’t have their proper place and meaning. At the same time there is an absurdity to the evil of the occupation and the pursuit of Jews. It is as though surrealism is the only way to correctly portray the horrors of the war because what was happening was too much to take in and make proper sense of.

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