It is part of the very nature of memories that they fade, and fray, and glow softly as they disappear into embers. Is a memory valuable because it stays with you, or because it vanishes, and then returns at an inopportune, or opportune, time? Aren’t those memories that we hold dear important to us because, out of all of the memories that we could remember, we remember these, and no others? I have very few memories of my childhood that I can actively recall – if you ask me, I will come up with a handful at best. But, every now and again, something will happen that will strike a chord with me and, like a ringing bell, a memory will peal, and I will recall something I hadn’t thought about in years. And then I’ll forget.
Modiano’s novels are written like these memories. The memories that we try to hold on to, but which fade, and then fade further, and then become fuzzy and blurred, and then become indistinct, and then are gone. He writes about these memories, his novellas are often begun with these memories, and then, yes, they are explored, but using language that seeks to exemplify the sensation of searching and loss that permeates any kind of remembrance.
Modiano is, I think, an important writer of memory not because he explores what memory is or what it can bring back – although he does these things – but more because he accurately captures how it feels to be in the throes of remembering, whether that memory is a bad or a good one, or important or mundane. His narrator’s, generally always nameless, struggle with memories that they didn’t even remember that they had, and they search their minds and government or public records to try and figure out what has happened in their past, but of course all of the pertinent information is gone. There is no record of the song you heard five years ago in a clothing store that you really liked and which reminded you of your deceased grandmother. But it’s meaningful, and when the memory returns, you aren’t quite sure what to do with it. And you follow the memory, and try to see where it goes, and where you end up, well – it’s not certain, and it’s not necessarily an intrinsically good or bad thing to determine.
That’s a Modiano book. That was this book.
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read this year.