But sooner or later, everyone is called to account.
Memories fade, but their affects don’t really dissipate. Even if we wish they might. I don’t remember much about a lot of things, and at times this bothers me. How much of my life is lost to me because I don’t actively recall it? Too much, but it doesn’t help to acknowledge this. It’s gone. Sometimes chunks of memory surface from the oblivion of my past, but rarely, and too often that which fades is gone for ever, and, worse, I don’t even remember that it’s passed. My life is an unravelled ball of string, and it’s impossible to reconstitute it to anything resembling the life that I have lived.
And yet I am alive, and my self is continuous with what has occurred in the past, and I am me, or at least I tell myself that. So how does this all work?
I don’t know.
Patrick Modiano doesn’t know.
His books, however, attempt to decipher these mysteries. They fail, of course, and often gloriously so, but they fail. And we are none the wiser. The act of remembering is an impenetrable subject, and no theory, or so it seems to me, has accurately managed to capture the loss and reconstitution of memory in any meaningful sense. I could be wrong, but even then, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that sometimes I recall an event that has passed, and sometimes I don’t, and yet I am still able to hold a coherent sense of self inside my mind. This is what Modiano explores, often via a surrogate character, and always without an answer.
To read one work of Modiano is to miss the point. To read five or six in succession is to accumulate an understanding of the disparate aspects of memory and recollection, and to understand, to, the failure of our own understanding of who we are and who we were. He tackles the same subject from slightly different angles, and the totality of this is to come close – and also nowhere near close enough – to what it means to remember, and what memory truly is.
I would say, after all of this, that Modiano is a very worthy Nobel candidate, but I also can’t say which book an interested reader should begin with. Flowers of Ruin is fine, but on its own it isn’t enough. Plan to read as many as possible, as close together as possible, and then you’ll understand. Or you won’t, but that’s okay, because that’s kind of the point. Memories are lost to us, and when they do surface, it’s often unbidden, unwanted, lovely, pure and good, and then, too quickly, gone again, and who knows for how long. Too long.
The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read this year.