Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano and translated by Mark Polizzotti is a collection three stories involving Paris. Patrick Modiano is the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. Polizzotti is a writer, translator, and directs the publications program for University of Fine Arts, Boston.
The novellas were originally published separately and combined for this edition. Several things come to mind in these stories. First the novellas work very well combined in a single volume, almost as if they belong together.
There is a dark, almost noir feeling to the Paris in Modiano’s work. There is a feeling that the city caught in a terminal overcast dusk. There are a few versions of Paris, however. There are childhood memories, occupied Paris, and a more modern Paris. There is a sense of loss of the old city and a sense loss of people. The loss is still there when, by chance, people are found.
For the second time this week I find myself thinking of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and the places and memories of youth and revisiting as an adult. This happens to the narrators’ throughout the stories. The past may not have been ideal but still places and people from the past are sought to give comfort, which is seldom found. To many outside of France, it would seem that Paris is unchanged though the years, but to the narrator his city no longer exists.
Time changes us all. It changes places. Time makes us question what we believed as children when the details were not complete. If that is not enough, war moves in and forces change and changes people. There is a sadness in the stories maybe it is from the story maybe it is from the readers realization that the narrator could very well be the reader going back and looking for his or her past.
Although short stories are not my favorite read, these three combine well into a single work. The words used have meaning beyond their utilitarian use. This is a credit to the translator as well as the writer. For years the English reading public read the opening line of The Stranger read a rather cold “Mother died today.” Decades later the actual French word “maman” is used conveying a much warmer, familiar “mom”. One word changed the entire feeling of the opening and perhaps the reader’s opinion of the main character. Translations are difficult in conversation and all the more difficult when trying to capture the sense, feeling, and mood of literature. Suspended Sentences offers a good introduction to the works of a great writer, whose works are not well known in the English speaking world.