The latest addition to my website is Bernard Prou‘s Alexis Vassilkov ou la vie tumultueuse du fils de Maupassant [Alexis Vassilkov or the Tumultuous Life of the Son of Maupassant]. This is a complicated story involving the (fictitious) son of French writer Guy de Maupassant and his mother, a Russian woman who models for Renoir and becomes a painter. Alexis the son takes part in the Russian Revolution, becomes Stalin’s doctor, gets sent to a gulag, learns that Tsar Alexander I became the wandering monk Feodor Kuzmich, escapes (with his wife and young son), arriving two days before the Germans invade Paris in World War II and flees to the country (with a (real) French government minister), joins the Resistance and gets involved with collaborationists after the war. And that is just the highlights. Lots of adventure, lots of messing around with history and great fun.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Encre sympathique [Invisible Ink]. Our hero/narrator is Jean Eyben. He is a would-be writer but works at a detective agency to earn money and get material for his work. His first job is to track down a woman called Noëlle Lefebvre. We follow his not very successful attempts, as he gets misleading clues, meets people who are not what they seem and delves back into his past, as it seems she grew up in the same place as he did. As is normal with Modiano, ten years later he is still looking for and more clues, some misleading, some not, emerge. Did she really exist? Was she really married and, if so, to whom? And is her diary partially written in invisible ink, as his life seems to be? As always with Modiano, the past pops up and then fades, characters come and go and Paris changes and life remains a mystery.
The latest addition to my website is Georges Perec‘s L’Attentat de Sarajevo [The Sarajevo Assassination]. This is Perec’s first (written) novel. It was believed lost and only found and published well after his death. It was based on his friendship in Paris with a group of Yugoslavs. The narrator becomes friendly with a Yugoslav, Branko, in Paris but, when he sees a photo of Branko’s mistress, Mila, he is smitten. When she comes to Paris he sees her for a while but she returns to Yugoslavia. When she writes to him saying that she would like to see him, he is off to Belgrade in a few days. Branko lives in Sarajevo with his wife, Anna, but comes up to Belgrade as the two men struggle for the affection of Mila. Then, when our hero visits Sarajevo, he comes up with a plan to get Anna to shoot her husband out of jealousy. At the same time, we are following a theory about that other assassination in Sarajevo. It is not a great book and it is easy to see why he had difficulty getting it published but still an interesting idea.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood). This one starts in 2012 but still maintains the usual Modiano feel of the past. Our hero is Jean Daragane, a solitary man, a (former) writer, living in a borrowed flat in Paris. He loses his address book and it is returned by a man who has looked into it and wants to now about a person whose name is in it. Daragane gradually gets dragged into the story behind the man and an investigation, which turns out to involve not only a possible murder but his own childhood and the strange woman who seemed to be looking after him. It gets murky, as we move between the past and the present but it is another fine mysterious tale from Modiano.
The latest addition to my website is Bernard Chambaz‘s Vladimir Vladimirovitch. This is a novel about Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin, both of them. The narrator, called Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin, is a former university professor, now a tram driver, a few months older than the Russian president, and similar in appearance. He has a dull life but one of his hobbies is maintaining notebooks about his namesake (whom he admires). We learn a lot about Putin the president but because our hero has such a dull life, vainly pursuing a neighbourhood woman, bemoaning the defeat of the Russian ice hockey team and dabbling in painting, the book does not really hit it off.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (In the Café of Lost Youth). While there are similarities with his other novels, this is unusually narrated by four different narrators, including the usual Modiano-like naive wannabe writer, but also the inevitable mysterious woman and two other characters. All the characters meet at the café Condé, including real-life writers as well as other literati. Louki, the mysterious woman, joins them but never seems fully integrated into the group, though she does have an affair with Roland, one of the narrators. We follow Roland, who becomes Louki’s boyfriend and believes in the idea of the eternal return and what he calls neutral zones in cities, Louki’s troubled life and the theory of how we all need fixed points to cope with the maelstrom of the city. Of course, it all ends miserably as people die, disappear and move on but it is till one of Modiano’s best.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Du plus loin de l’oubli (Out of the Dark ). This follows the standard Modiano format. A young, footloose young man, at a loose end, falls for an attractive woman, Jacqueline, in Paris. She persuades him to help her steal some money from a dubious character and the pair flee to London. There they meet the very real Peter Rachman, notorious in the 1950s-1960s as the archetypical slum landlord, who helps them. However, while our narrator is writing a novel, based on Rachman, Jacqueline is often out with Rachman, a famed womaniser. Fifteen years later, in Paris, having lost touch with Jacqueline, he sees her again entering a block of flats. He follows her. It is another fine novel from Modiano, though, as usual, we are not always entirely sure what is going on.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Un cirque passe (After the Circus).
This novel will be familiar territory to those who have read other Modiano novels. It tells of a naive young man in Paris, whose father has to suddenly leave the country, presumably for legal reasons, who meets a woman (four years older than him). He is smitten and the couple travel round Paris in a borrowed car. She involves him with her decidedly dubious friends but agrees to accompany him to Rome where he has the possibility of a job. But who is she really and why are the police interested in her and who are her mysterious friends? We learn well before the end that it is not going to work out with her but we are left as much in the dark as our hero is.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Remise de peine (Suspended Sentences). This short novel deals with Modiano’s usual themes, telling the story of two young boys, the older clearly based on Modiano himself, who are sent to stay with three women on the outskirts of Paris, while their parents are away travelling. It soon becomes apparent (to us, if not the boys) that the various visitors to the women are up to no good, though the boys enjoy their company and, for example, the ride in the US car, listening to Edith Piaf on the radio. The boys are eventually taken along for the ride when the women visit Paris and the narrator, as an older man, will try to reconstruct where they went. It is all going to end badly and it does but Modiano has kept us involved in the story all the way.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Quartier perdu (A Trace of Malice). This has several of Modiano’s favourite themes – looking for the past, finding Paris has changed a lot, a hero who has two personalities – his present and his past one and some murky secret which will gradually come out. Jean Dekker has been living in England under the name Ambrose Guise, where he is a successful detective story writer but now visits Paris for the first time in nearly twenty years. There he tries to reconnect with his past – many of the people are dead – and investigate events of twenty years ago which led to his departure from France. The book was published in English by a publisher who is long since defunct so the book is difficult to obtain in translation.