I’m sure most of you have seen this already, but . . . French novelist Patrick Modiano (b. 1945) has won the Nobel Prize in Literature (here is the official press release). The official citation is: “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation” (I don’t know what “life-world” is).

I happened to be reading up on Modiano yesterday because some folks at The World Literature Forum were talking about him. I checked my bookshelves to see if I had anything by him, especially since Godine publishes Missing Person and Honeymoon in their wonderful Verba Mundi series (they also publish his children’s book Catherine Certitude) (see here), but, alas, none are on my shelves. Really, other than stumbling on his name sporadically, I know little about him or his work.

Modiano Missing Person

Patrick Modiano published his debut novel, La Place de l’Étoile, in 1968, apparently with the encouragement of Raymond Queneau. He co-wrote the screenplay for Louis Malle’s 1974 film Lacombe Lucien (which you can get from The Criterion Collection (see here)). In 1978 he won the Prix Goncourt for Rue des boutiques obscures (translated into English as Missing Person). He’s written a couple dozen books (a few of them children’s books), and it looks like eight or so of those are available in English (with a collection of three of his novellas — Afterimage, Suspended Sentences, and Flowers of Ruin coming from Yale University Press next month in February of next year (though Ron Charles reports in The Washington Post that it is coming next month — perhaps they’re expediting it, though it’s not indicated on Amazon or their webpage update: their publicity page does say the book is coming on November 25 (here))).

Suspended Sentences

This is all coming from quick reading this morning, but it seems that Modiano’s work is highly concerned with the German occupation of France, though he was born after the war had ended. Sounds like there’s some fascinating work on identity in store for those venturing into Modiano.


For more, including links to articles and book reviews, check out M.A. Orthofer’s coverage on The Complete Review here.

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By |2014-10-09T12:19:19+00:00October 9th, 2014|Categories: Book Prize News|Tags: |18 Comments


  1. Lee Monks October 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I love it when they pull such a name out of the hat – opportunity to investigate the unknown. I am, though, sad that Roth didn’t get the award. Again.

  2. Trevor Berrett October 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I have found that I’m a fan of the Nobel when it rewards a writer I love (see last year) or when it presents someone I’m not familiar with. Otherwise, I don’t particularly care. I do hope that some day in the near future they make it to Krasznahorkai, though :-) . Roth, I feel like he can do without and probably will have to.

  3. Steven October 9, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    There are a lot of writers writing in English who deserve the Nobel more than Roth. Get over it.

  4. Trevor Berrett October 9, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Sure, Steven, and many in other languages. Rather than be snippy about someone expressing a preference (though I believe the snippiness is not that so much as the fact that they like Roth), tell us who you prefer.

  5. Lee Monks October 9, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I’m over it. It was literally a half-serious comment re: Roth. Although:

    “There are a lot of writers writing in English who deserve the Nobel more than Roth.”

    Who are they?

    As you say, Trevor, he can do without it. Krasznahorkai: I’m sure they’ll get round to him at some point!

  6. winstonsdad October 13, 2014 at 1:17 am

    I had read and review him just before the Nobel as he had risen in the betting and I really liked the sound of his books so I am looking forward to reading more by him soon

  7. Steven October 15, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    In English? Novelists or Poets? More than I can count. Rushdie, Wa Thiongo, McEwan, Ondaatje, Banville, Oates…

  8. Lee Monks October 16, 2014 at 8:15 am

    I don’t consider any of those his equal, Steven, although John Banville is a fair shout for future recipient. I’d also say three of those are savagely over-rated – are you really suggesting that Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates in particular are better? How many enduring books have they written, one apiece? – but there you go, fair play for putting names up.

  9. Steven October 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Philip Roth wasn’t as innovative as the above writers, stylistically, thematically, aesthetically, and otherwise. Roth just wrote a couple bestsellers and is famous (in America only). The literary worth of his novels are ZERO. The works of the above writers are widely studied in higher institutions than Roth. What book of Roth’s is of more importance in the literary sphere than Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses? Goodbye Columbus? Exit Ghost? American Pastoral?

  10. Lee Monks October 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    You’ve lost me, Steven. Firstly, innovation means zilch without substance. If the innovation involved is in itself interesting, that’s fine. But none of the writers you cite – zero, in fact – are particularly innovative. Joyce was innovative. Gertrude Stein was innovative. David Markson. John Ashbery. BS Johnson. Anthony Burgess. Etc. Joyce Carol Oates and Salman Rushdie are, by anyone’s standards, extremely conventional prose stylists.

    Sabbath’s Theater, Patrimony, The Counterlife, Operation Shylock and the Zuckerman books contain more substance, stylistic panache, wit, wisdom and pure narrative joy, as far as I’m concerned, than any novels you want to name from your list of authors, none of whom were studied at the university I attended. Portnoy’s Complaint was, it’s possibly worth mentioning.

    Roth is correctly revered in the UK. He’s considered, alongside Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon to comprise pretty much the holy trinity of US fiction from here I’d say. The only living North American writer other than those spoken in the same breath is Alice Munro.

    I’d suggest Sabbath’s Theater is more important, in the ‘literary sphere’, than every single book in the entire oeuvre of all six of your authors. That’s possibly down to it being a masterpiece, something none of those authors has achieved yet. Rushdie and Oates have written some truly awful books it has to be said. Although, I concede, I really don’t rate either on any terms.

    I wonder…maybe you feel Roth is a bit samey?

  11. Trevor Berrett October 16, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    This is an interesting argument, but I get the sense Steven just doesn’t like Roth. That’s fine, but I can’t credit his arguments and feel Steven is just falling back on baseless generalities and poorly researched assumptions to keep his fire burning. I’m a fan of Roth (if you check out the review index, you’ll see that on this site I’ve reviewed more of his books than almost anyone else’s), and I don’t care if he wins the Nobel. But I can’t resist jumping in here.

    Skipping for now (but see my last rebuttal below) the interesting but unfounded claim that Roth wasn’t as innovative as the above writers (I’d honestly love to read why, Steven; I’m not just saying that to provoke — I’d genuinely love to read a well thought-out piece on how these writers are innovative but Roth is not), I’ll start my responses to Steven’s comments here:

    1. “Roth just wrote a couple bestsellers and is famous (in America only).”

    You’re understating your point. Roth wrote more than a couple bestsellers, and he’s pretty famous outside of America (I’m pretty sure he’s more famous worldwide than most Nobel winners). You’re suggesting that’s the only reason people care about him. We’re all on the bandwagon, so to speak; we love him because our neighbor told us to. If he were less famous or sold fewer copies, we’d forget about him. I don’t think this is true for me personally, and I hope that I admire quite a few authors who need more exposure. So this isn’t convincing. And, uhm, can I just suggest that some authors you suggest — Rushdie and McEwan, in particular — could be accused of the same thing?

    2. “The literary worth of [Roth’s] novels are ZERO.”

    Not by my estimation. In fact, that conclusion with no real basis is enough for me to discredit most of what you’re saying, Steven. I don’t even know what you mean by “literary worth,” but I’m confident Roth has it.

    3. “The works of the above writers are widely studied in higher institutions than Roth.”

    You don’t know this, surely. Indeed, my own experience in “higher institutions,” both as a student and a professor, would suggest otherwise. But, besides, that, why is this supposed to convince us he’s worthless? Why care what the “higher institutions” spend their time on if you’re already out their exploring the landscape? After all, they don’t cover everyone, and sometimes what they do cover is due to convention and trend as much as anything. Furthermore, if institutional acceptance were a criterion for the Nobel, there are plenty of laureates who wouldn’t have won, and many of my current favorites would be ignored. Thank goodness the Nobel, at least at times, doesn’t award based on what “higher institutions” say (though, again, if it did, I think Roth would have won this thing years ago).

    4. “What book of Roth’s is of more importance in the literary sphere than Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses? Goodbye, Columbus? Exit Ghost? American Pastoral?”

    What do you mean by “of more importance to the literary sphere”? Is this going back to the trends of “higher institutions”? Do you mean influential? If so, I curse Midnight’s Children for influencing thirty years of mediocre knock-offs. Do you mean . . . well, what do you mean? Important in a purely literary sense? What is that? I feel we might be going back to innovation (though why innovation is the end-all-be-all I don’t know (though I’m a huge fan of it), since some conventional stuff can be revolutionary). If so then:

    Yes to American Pastoral; you got it on your third try.

    But that’s not all. At about the same time Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children (which I like but don’t love), Roth wrote The Ghostwriter, a masterpiece — economical, metafictional, ethical, transgressive, provocative, quiet — and followed it up with these other masterpieces: Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, The Prague Orgy, The Counterlife, Patrimony, Sabbath’s Theater, American Pastoral, the list goes on, but I’ve left off those I don’t think rate and I’m also of the opinion the peak is American Pastoral.

    This is a body of work that is absolutely astonishing for its innovation, energy, and content. I personally don’t believe Rushdie’s masterpiece — Midnight’s Children — stacks up, but even if it did you’d be hard pressed to argue that what he wrote subsequently is in any way the match of Roth’s output.

    I note, Steven, that you left out the other authors here when glancingly comparing Roth’s work. I have not read Ng?g?, though I just got a bunch of his books and am really looking forward to getting to know his work (I hope I like it more than I like Roth). But I have read plenty of Rushdie, McEwan, Ondaatje, Banville, and Oates. I’ve liked quite a bit of their work just fine, some of it quite a bit, but other than Ondaatje, I don’t look forward to a new work from any of the others.

    All that said, I’d love to hear more about your admiration for the authors you’ve listed and others you didn’t. You haven’t adequately argued your points against Roth, but perhaps that won’t matter if you can more fully express what’s to love in the work of Rushdie, Ng?g?, McEwan, Ondaatje, Banville, Oates . . .

  12. Lee Monks October 16, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Pretty comprehensive, Trevor!

    Going back to my first mention of Roth here: it wasn’t even completely serious. It doesn’t, genuinely, matter to me if he wins the Nobel or not. The books are still there on the shelf. There are more of them then there are by any other author, I think. It’d be nice, that’s it, as a culmination of a truly great author’s life and work. Roth really does rub people up the wrong way at times and it’s always interesting. The arguments tend to be very jumpy and unsubstantiated. I remember the Man International Booker fiasco…anyway.

  13. Steven October 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    OK, Oates shouldn’t have been on my list. But her prolific output as a novelist and short story writer might put her ahead of Roth in the race for the Nobel. Other authors I mentioned, most particularly Rushdie, are better candidates for the prize. Lee Monks, Pynchon, DeLillo, and even Roth, might not win the Nobel. Past Americans who won, won when they were active writers—in their prime, even: Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison. Roth, Delillo, and Pynchon seem to have run out of ideas, unfortunately. But Roth might still be rewarded (after Rushdie and Ondaatje) to placate his fans, who can’t stop crying every October. I never said Roth doesn’t deserve the Nobel, just that these authors are better stylists and storytellers than Roth, who was just above average, and deserve to be awarded sooner. I can’t think of any Roth sentence that was brilliant. How is Rushdie a conventional prose stylist? You seem to have not read Rushdie? Roth is revered in the UK, same way J. K Rowling is revered in the US. Clearly, Rushdie and Ondaatje are studied in higher institutions more than Roth. Philip Roth is just a poor man’s Saul Bellow who used the controversy of his narratives to make up for his shallow imagination. (Masturbation with a piece of liver. Seriously!!!) Updike was three times a better writer than Roth, stylistically, imaginatively, and otherwise. But that is just my opinion.
    American Pastoral wouldn’t even be Roth’s best book. Saying The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children don’t stack up to The Ghost Writer is literary fallacy!!!

  14. Lee Monks October 17, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    The fact that you’re suggesting Oates is the equal of Roth – despite already claiming that she really shouldn’t be on your list in the first place – puts you on a very sticky wicket indeed.

    “Other authors, most particularly Rushdie, are better candidates…” – do you have Nobel inside info that we don’t know about? Rushdie is a consistently poor writer of fiction whose best book in decades was Joseph Anton – often for the unintentional laughs. I really enjoyed that, and I can appreciate his prose style plenty on such form. But it simply isn’t innovative. Philip Roth, book for book, deals out the kind of literary battering to Rushdie that your not seeing is simply what it is.

    Pynchon? Have you read Bleeding Edge? Obviously not. And why has ‘running out of ideas’ got to do with anything here anyway?

    You give the game away a little when you start to talk about his fans ‘crying every October’. Are they? You seem considerably more irked that anyone would have the gall to give a shout out to Roth than Roth fans might care less, ultimately, what the Nobel judges get up to. Get over your grudge, which I wonder about you nursing due to your literary squeamishness more than anything else.

    Some of your comments, such as the Roth/Rowling one, aren’t worthy of response, apologies. Your hysterical tenor has dug you a hole there I’m not diving into. Do you lean on the ! key with your elbow? One is plenty, I get it.

    When you make a comment such as “Masturbation with a piece of liver! Seriously!!!!” you suggest a few things. Prudishness, perchance? Deep conservatism. Grudgeful sensitivity. Humourlessness. Naive trollishness. Just speculation, Steven.

    Anyway, I’ve got to go and spend some time with some less angry people – or maybe a comely bit of liver, who knows? ;-)

  15. Trevor Berrett October 17, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    Clearly, Rushdie and Ondaatje are studied in higher institutions more than Roth.

    Ah — I was just about to say that, no, Roth is studied in higher institutions more than Rushdie and Ondaatje, but then I realized you’d made your point so well here.

  16. avataram October 31, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Patrick Modiano’s Villa Triste was made into “Le Parfum d’Yvonne” by one of my favorite French directors – Patrice Leconte. It is a strange film, not one of Leconte’s best, and with enough eroticism to make me wonder if Modiano was another Elfriede Jelinek (of the “Piano Teacher” fame). Fortunately, nearly all of his novels have been translated into Spanish and the El Pais wrote a great article, and there was a wonderful piece by Enrique Vila-Matas – a great friend of Roberto Bolaño on Modiano’s love of Paris:


    El Pais also reminded readers that when Le Clezio won in 2008, they wrote that Modiano was more deserving.

    As for Roth, maybe the Nobel Committee tried to alternate languages – so Munro will remain the last English author to have won it for sometime- It is unlikely that Roth will not get it in 2015 either, and it could go to Murakami (Japanese) or Javier Marias (Spanish). Ngugi Wa Thiongo unfortunately wrote a couple of novels in English and this could be held against him.

    But there is no question that Roth is the most deserving English writer for the Nobel now. (I would be delighted if William Trevor is awarded, but it is very unlikely after Munro).

  17. Trevor Berrett October 31, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    My favorite writer won it last year, so I feel good about that, but you named my second favorite English writer: William Trevor. I think you’re right that his time has passed, but boy has he created worlds and lives enough for me.

  18. Steven November 2, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I forgot to mention the great author Cormac McCarthy in my earlier comment. Clearly a better writer than Phillipe Roth. All his published novels are stellar.

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