The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature takes less than two pages in Patrick Modiano’s new novel to name the eternal motive for his writing. We are talking about the “fragments of memory” he tried to write down as quickly as possible: pictures from a period of his life which he saw pass in rapid motion before finally sinking into oblivion.”
The fact that these images repeat themselves and look a little different each time is part of Modiano’s literature. Just as there is something familiar about reading every new novel by this French writer. It’s the kind of homecoming he’s still getting used to and always followed by a new charm.
“On the way to Chevreuse” is Modiano this time. Or much more: one of his alter ego writings on his way there, specifically Jan Bosmans, last used in the 2013 novel Abbey Horizonte. Chevreuse is the name of a municipality located about 30 kilometers southwest of Paris, which Bossmann considers a “principality” of forests, ponds, orchards, and parks.
More importantly, here is a home where the Bosmans spent some time as a child, so he has childhood memories attached to it. Long ago, as a young and aspiring writer at the age of 20 or 25, he wanted to snatch these things out of oblivion and fix them.
“The Coming and Leaving of the Strange Woman”
As is often the case, Patrick Modiano travels on three levels of time. Bosmans nowadays remembers how he encountered his childhood some fifty years ago, roughly the mid to late 1960s: in the form of place names such as Chevreuse or Auteuil; through people who met him during this time; Precisely by that house on Rue de Doctor Corzine in which he lived for a while and which also raises the interest of some suspicious figures because of the stolen property that may be hidden there.
This home and its title should sound familiar to Modiano readers. In his frankly autobiographical book A Family Tree, the writer, born in Boulogne-Billancourt in 1945, recounts how he and his brother lived here in 1952 with a friend of his mother, Suzanne Boquero. The mother was meanwhile on a theatrical tour.
It was “the coming and going of strange women” in the house, as stated in the “Family Tree”. Among them was Rose Marie Crowell, “a hotelier on the rue du Vaux Colombere, who drove an American car” – who now also plays an important role in the new novel.
And in Strafloss, published long before this one, is one of his finest autobiographies, and one full of childhood impressions, the house is the central place, with a “terraced garden” behind it, albeit on a street, Rue du Doctor – Dordaine is called.
Names are memory drives here
Here the narrator of “The Punishment” (he is ten years old there) and his younger brother are cared for by several women for a year; But few men go in and out here either. Among them is Roger Vincent, who now appears again in Chevreuse with a different first name, Guy, although only in pictures and by his own name. He is said to have once said to Bossman after the latter handed him a letter addressed to Roger Vincent: “As you know, I change my first name from time to time.”
Patrick Modiano always owes the interaction of forgetting and remembering the names of people and places. The magic that emanates from them is very different from that of Marcel Proust, with whom Modiano shares his passion for memory.
For Proust’s narrator, place-names and names in general serve to arouse desire for particular places or people. In this way he imagines them to be more beautiful and grander than they are, and then repeatedly faces the less beautiful reality. But also with the habit of doing her job without pity, as in the case of Madame de Germantes.
With Modiano, on the other hand, many names are memory drives. If this does not want to appear at all, at least the names remain as the rest. For example, in the novel “Strafverlass” there is a list of 25 auto repair shops that have not existed for a long time.
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And what is it called “On the Way to Chevreuse”? “Auteuil. The name sounded strange. Auteuil.” Or: “Chevreuse. The name might attract other names like magnet.” Or, about Jay Vincent, “he might have liked the simple sound of that name.”
It all starts with names, then memory is installed and the Bosmans seek to resurrect the past. Dark mysteries lie in this in turn, since criminals also accompanied the life of young Jean.
Even the “release of the sentence” ends with the police searching the house on Rue du Doctor-Dord-Maidin after all the adult residents except the children have been removed. In “On the way to Chevreuse” is a room in which additional bunkers were built into the walls.
Bosman tries to connect several characters with their names and to make sense of his story. And most importantly, he writes all this and turns it into a novel: “He stole their lives and even their names, and they were only found in the pages of this book.”
Modiano calls his poetry
It is not always easy to follow the story of this novel, which is difficult to describe as such. Modiano often changes time levels imperceptibly, and these are basically parts of memories.
In “On the Road to Chevreuse,” Modiano names his poetry more explicitly than it has been for a long time. Searching for wasted childhood and lost time is the paramount idea of his literature, and the transformation into a novel is paramount. The narrator is even more grateful that over the years new details have been provided about “some of his characters,” about Camille Lucas, Martin Hayward, Jay (or just: Roger) Vincent and Rose Marie Crowell: “What is proven were blurred lines between real life and fiction.” “.
This mainly applies to the entire work of this writer. Repeatingly drawing from his own life, Patrick Modiano attempts to fill in the gaps in his memory. It is logical that the novel “Unterwegs nach Chevreuse” ends with a dream: some secrets of this novel, which are inaccessible in parts of it, remain open.