The Night Watch by Patrick Modiano

Not every book by an important writer is an important book.

The first fifty pages went over my head. Lots of talking heads with exotic names making disconnected remarks. The narrative voice was so thin, so elusive that I found it impossible to get any kind of emotional foothold in the story. It was like an artist’s sketch or a jazz musician improvising. A lot of attention is given to the decadence of the Nazis and their sympathisers but I found all this rather clichéd.

Eventually a narrative voice did emerge. A first person narrative of a character who, as we guessed, is informing for both sides during WW2 in Paris and whose two best friends are inventions. Now it did get more interesting. But it never went beyond the artist’s sketch, the jazz musician’s improvisation. In a proper novel no doubt he would have been a compelling character but here, apart from wanting to get his mother to safety in Switzerland we learn little about his motives. Maybe that was the point, that such people are unknowable. But Modiano created him so he must know him even if he pretends not to. The problem was that the artifice of pretending not to know a character you do felt awkward here. Modiano seems to like unknowable characters. But while this technique of creating ghosts rather than characters worked fabulously well in Dora Bruder here it felt forced and trite. I’d be surprised if it took more than a month to write this. 13glover-blog427

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