• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Ten things to know about Patrick Modiano

The Local/AFP · 10 Dec 2014, 15:15

Published: 10 Dec 2014 15:15 GMT+01:00

1.       Celebrated in France:

He may not be well known in the Anglo literary world but he certainly is in France, where he is considered one of the country’s most celebrated writers.  His crowning moment before winning this year’s Nobel Literature Prize was in 1978 when he picked up France’s prestigious Goncourt prize for his book “Missing Person”. He’s also won the National Literature Grand Prize (1996) and the French Academy’s Grand Prize for his novel “Ring Roads”.

2.       Work inspired by the Nazi Occupation:

The 69-year-old, born at the end of World War Two has described the Occupation of France as "the soil I grew up in". On awarding him the Nobel Prize the Swedish Academy said it wanted to celebrate his "art of memory" in capturing the lives of ordinary people during German rule, which lasted from 1940 to 1944 in France. Modiano's recreations of wartime Paris are stuffed with meticulous detail - street names, cafes, metro stations and real-life events at that time - earning him the moniker of literary archaeologist.

3.       Not just a novelist

Modiano has more strings to his bow than just being a novelist. He co-wrote the screenplay for Lacombe Lucien, a movie directed by Louis Malle, which focussed on French collaboration with the Nazis. He has also written children’s books. Britain’s Guardian newspaper points out that the film database IMDb records that Modiano is not only a screenwriter for both film and TV, but an actor, who appeared with famous French actress Catherine Deneuve in the 1997 Raoul Ruiz film Genealogies of a Crime, playing a character called Bob.

4. French term named after him

Modiano has confessed his love for all things mysterious. "The more things remain obscure and mysterious, the more they interest me. I even try to find mystery in things that have none," he wrote in the autobiographical work "Pedigree" (2005).

In a nod to that penchant for mystery, the French term "modianesque" has come to refer to a particularly ambiguous person or situation.

5.       He doesn’t like the limelight

Modiano, who lives in Paris, is known to shun media attention and rarely gives interviews. After meeting Modiano,France Today magazine wrote: You’ll never stumble upon him at one of those literary cocktail parties Parisian editors adore, nor will you spy his rangy figure on popular talk shows. Modiano’s interviews are few, but his words are priceless."

Another critic once described him as "One metre 90 of timidity and candor".

6.       Complicated family background:

He was born at the end of World War II, on July 30, 1945, in the Paris suburb of Boulogne into a family whose complex background set the scene for a lifelong obsession with that dark period in history. His father, Alberto Modiano, was an Italian Jew with ties to the Gestapo who did not have to wear the yellow star and who was also close to organised crime gangs. His mother was a Flemish actress named Louisa Colpeyn.

7.       Unhappy upbringing

Along with collaborationist France, Modiano's work is haunted by what he says was a cold upbringing, creating the impression of a long letter to his parents. The writer has described his mother's heart as so cold that her lap-sized chow-chow leapt from a window to his death. The eldest of two boys, Patrick spent long periods in boarding schools. His younger brother, Rudy, died in 1957 when Modiano was still a boy. When he was 17, Modiano broke all ties with his father, who died 15 years later and to whom he has devoted several books.

8.       Not a big fan of writing?

In an interview with Le Figaro Modiano suggests that writing is more of a burden than a pleasure to him.

"For a long time I’ve had a recurring dream – I dream I don’t have to write any more, that I’m free. I’m not free, alas, I’m still clearing the same terrain, with the impression that it’s never finished," he said. He also described his troubles when he first started out as a writer.

Story continues below…

“Recently I looked back at my first manuscripts and was struck by the lack of space, of breath. That’s exactly how it felt, back then … like I was suffocating,” he said.  

But he persisted and has been more than rewarded for his efforts. Modiano compared writing to driving in fog: "You don't know where you're going, you just know you have to go on."

9.       Published at just 22

Modiano has produced around 30 works in all, most of which are shortish novels. He had first work published when he was just 22, when most people his age are still struggling to write essays at university. He owed his big break to a friendship with a friend of his mother, French writer Raymond Queneau, who was first introduced him to the Gallimard publishing house. The book "La place de l'etoile" (The Star's Place), was a direct reference to that mark of shame inflicted on the Jews.

10.   Turned down the Académie Francaise

France’s famous guardians of culture and language the Académie Francaise was keen to appoint Modiano to their group of “Immortals”. But perhaps uncomfortable with the publicity it would have brought him, Modiano turned down the nomination.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
It's official: France finally gets its new map
Photo: AFP

So, how well do you know the new map?

Sexism at the wheel: France wants more women drivers
Photo: State Farm/Flickr

Because the men are causing all the accidents.

VIDEOS: France's raunchiest TV commercials of all time
Photo: Gifi

Two sexually-charged adverts have got people hot under the collar in France, a little strange perhaps given the history of the French for making raunchy adverts. Take a look back through time at these famously steamy ads.

Why are foreign students in France 'Europe's unhappiest'?
Students at a university in Normandy. Photo: AFP

... for the fourth year in a row.

Education in France
The troubles with French universities laid bare
Students in Lyon. Photo: AFP

Classrooms overflowing, a serious lack of funding, and a flailing reputation abroad... what exactly is wrong with France's university system? The Local's Oliver Gee takes a closer look.

Studying in France
How to survive Paris on a student budget
Are you a student in Paris? Here's how to save some money. Photo: AFP

With students from all over the world descending on Paris for the start of a new term, we take a look at the best ways to save money while living in the French capital on a shoestring.

Where in France has the cleanest and dirtiest air?
Photo: AFP

No, Paris doesn't have the dirtiest.

Court could give 'depressed' French nation right to smile
Photo: Jens Bergander/Flickr

"Is it really responsible, in a depressed France, that the authorities forbid the French from smiling... (on their ID photos)"

Is Hollande's last budget target really credible?
Photo: AFP

The president says the budget is "serious" but many would disagree.

China turns to Brittany cows to feed its babies
Photo: AFP

Far east giant provides a boost for Brittany's beleaguered dairy farmers.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Education
The troubles with French universities laid bare
Culture
The crazy French writing phrases you can't get your head around
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
2,728
jobs available