French author Patrick Modiano wins the Nobel Prize

French author Patrick Modiano wins the Nobel Prize

French novelist Patrick Modiano has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, announcing the win at noon today (9th October), said Modiano was awarded the prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

Modiano, published in France by Gallimard, writes short novels with themes of “memory, identity and time”, Englund said. The French author is “well known and well read in France” but Englund admitted he is not so well known outside of his native country. He said Modiano has a “very special art” in writing about memory, adding: “You can identify with his original technique”.

Asked if Modiano is likely to be accessible to a wide audience, Englund answered: “He is accessible in terms of language but the composition of his books is refined.” He added: “He writes a lot about Paris. He knows it intimately and it’s important in the setting of his books.”

He recommended Modiano’s novel Rue des Boutiques Obscures, (published in an English translation as Missing Person by Jonathan Cape in 1980), which “plays with the detective genre”, as a good starting point for reading his work. The story tells of a one-time private detective who tries to uncover the secrets of his own past. Englund described the novel as “very fun, but it still says something fundamental about memory and time”.

Modiano is also the author of Dora Bruder (1997), translated into English by Joanna Kilmartin and published as The Search Warrant by Harvill in 2000; the novel builds on the true story of a 15-year-old girl in Paris who became a victim of the Holocaust. Harvill has the book available in e-book and paperback (£9.99); it is now being reprinted in the light of the Nobel win, with the new edition set for £8.99.

Liz Foley, publishing director at Harvill Secker, commented from Frankfurt: "We are delighted at Harvill Secker that Patrick Modiano has been awarded this wonderful honour and we are proud to have The Search Warrant on our list".

Another book, Voyages de Noces (1990), was published in English by Harvill in 1992.

Meanwhile Yale University Press has a new Modiano translation, Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, translated by Mark Polizzotti (p/b, £12.99) due out on 23rd April 2015. The edition will contain novellas Afterimage, Suspended Sentences and Flowers of Ruin, originally published separately but forming "a single, compelling whole, haunted by the same gauzy sense of place and characters," according to the publisher. "Shadowed by the dark period of the Nazi Occupation, these novellas reveal Modiano's fascination with the lost, obscure, or mysterious: a young person's confusion over adult behavior; the repercussions of a chance encounter; the search for a missing father; the aftershock of a fatal affair. To read Modiano's trilogy is to enter his world of uncertainties and the almost accidental way in which people find their fates," Yale U.P. said.

Born in Paris in 1945, Modiano published his first novel La Place de L'Etoile in 1968.

Englund said that contact with Modiano to let him know of his win hasn’t been established yet.

Image by Catherine Hélie © Éditions Gallimard