Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: John Cullen
Publisher: Other Press
US Release date: May 31, 2016
was first released in French in 1975!
also available as ebook
Genre: literary fiction
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
In 2014, Patrick Modiano was the sixteenth French author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since then, English readers have finally more and more opportunities to read his books. Better late than never. Other Press publishes this month Villa Triste, published in French back in 1975!
For once, this short novel by Modiano is not set in Paris, but in a small French city near the Swiss border.
But Villa Triste, though not his most important work, is still written in the same style as other novels by Modiano, with very short sentences, the narrator often directly addressing the reader.
Nothing remains of the big café, with its chandeliers and mirrors and the umbrella tables that overflowed onto the pavement. Around eight o’clock in the evening, there would be people moving about from table to table and forming little groups. Burst of laughter. Blond hair. Clinking glasses. Straw hats. From time to time, a beach robe would add a dash of bright color. Everyone was getting ready for the night’s festivities.
You find still the same ambiance, with cafés, a lot of walking in the streets, and an unusual attention to many details in the surrounding of the narrator. As well as some common names or characters with other books by the same author.
Modiano excels at descriptions, not only of the city world. There are some very neat presentations in this book of the lake, flowers and nature in general.
As usual, a great place is given to vague, cloudy, misty memories of names and pictures.
At first, some confusion is added between the identity of two narrators, and it takes a few pages to figure out who is who. Later on, as the reader, you may not always know whether you are in the present of the narration or in the memories of the characters. It’s not always absolutely clear, on purpose.
Even though Modiano writes literary fiction, there are always some elements of mystery – never resolved by the way. So is the case here, with a constant feeling of threat, fear, and doom. The cause, not explicitly mentioned until the very end, is however easily guessed.
But you don’t read Modiano for the plot, nor for the half mystery, you would be disappointed. You read him for the ambiance, for the style.
Besides, the characters themselves are even often mysteries to each other, and they will never fully know the truth about another person they met.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Un des premiers romans de Modiano enfin accessible en anglais. Villa Triste a toutes les caractéristiques des livres de cet auteur, même si, exceptionnellement, il ne se déroule pas à Paris.
VERDICT: One of Modiano’s first short novels is finally available in English. Though not set in Paris, it contains all the characteristics of works by the latest French author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
The narrator of Villa Triste, an anxious, roving, stateless young man of eighteen, arrives in a small French lakeside town near Switzerland in the early 1960s. He is fleeing the atmosphere of menace he feels around him and the fear that grips him. Fear of war? Of imminent catastrophe? Of others? Whatever it may be, the proximity of Switzerland, to which he plans to run at the first sign of danger, gives him temporary reassurance.
Modiano has written a haunting novel that captures lost youth, the search for identity, and ultimately, the fleetingness of time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Modiano’s parents met in occupied Paris during World War II and began their relationship in semi-clandestinity. Modiano’s childhood took place in a unique atmosphere: between the absence of his father — of which he heard many troubled stories — and his mother’s frequent tours, he had to complete his secondary education by government aid. This brought him closer to his brother, Rudy, who died of a disease at age 10 (the works of Patrick Modiano from 1967 to 1982 are dedicated to him). This disappearance announced the end of the author’s childhood, who continued to hold a marked nostalgia for this period.
Modiano studied at the École du Montcel primary school in Jouy-en-Josas, at the Collège Saint-Joseph de Thônes in Haute-Savoie, and then at the Lycée Henri-IV high school in Paris. While he was at Henri-IV, he took geometry lessons from writer Raymond Queneau, who was a friend of Modiano’s mother. He received his baccalaureate at Annecy but didn’t proceed with his higher education.
His meeting with Queneau, the author of Zazie dans le métro, is crucial. Modiano was introduced to the literary world by Queneau, and this gave him the opportunity to attend a cocktail party given by publishing house Éditions Gallimard. He published his first novel, La Place de l’Étoile, with them in 1968, after having read the manuscript to Raymond Queneau. Starting that year, he did nothing but write.