Friday, February 26, 2016

LA PLACE DE L'ETOILE by Patrick Modiano

Febrile freneticism is a fittingly fun and appropriately alliterative characterization of the style of Patrick Modiano's debut novella, La Place de l'Etoile. The book is a, yes, frenetic Voltairean-Petronian satire of French fascism and collaboration that reads at times like Nathanael West, at times like Thomas Pynchon, and at times like a psychedelic rock n roll cover of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus composed during a Benzedrine binge. Surprisingly, I didn't enjoy it very much. The novella might have impressed me more had I read it in the 1968 of its original publication, when it was a subversive soixante-huitard event, a fearless first airing of French high culture's merde-stained fascist underpants. Encountered today, as a recent Nobel laureate's first book, it seems thin and juvenile, cartoonish, too much a righteously angry young man's hyperactive attempt to rub France's face in everything he knows about its disavowed history in less than 120 pages. Voltaire could've pulled this off; Modiano at 23 was probably too young for the job. The book's targets seem too obvious today, and its style too reliant on pastiche. These things might have bothered me even in 1968, or, on the other hand, I might have understood them as literary equivalents of Godardian cinema (which they surely are), and I might have taken a big bong-hit and, exhaling after an indecent interval, pronounced the book, "Groovy, man. Better than acid."

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