French writer Patrick Modiano became the 107th recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. The committee pointed to his ability to hone in on "the most ungraspable human destinies" in his work, much of which focuses on identity and memory.
Modiano was born outside Paris two months after the close of World War II in 1945, and has written extensively about both the city and the Nazi occupation of Europe. He's only the 11th writer born in France to receive the prestigious award — a fact the country's residents are pleased about.
"It's a surprise," said Anne Ghisoli, the director of Librairie Gallimard, a large bookshop in Paris. "This prize will help raise the global profile of one of our consummate writers," she told the New York Times.
Despite his popularity in his native France, Modiano has largely flown under the radar outside of the country. This isn't entirely a new trend. As the New York Times points out, his win is in line with criticism that the prize "has often been ... concentrated on lesser-known writers who focus on political themes."
To that end, here are a few of Modiano's works worth seeking out:
1. Missing Person (Rue des Boutiques Obscures)
Missing Person is likey Modiano's most well-known book. Published in 1978, it won the prestigious Prix Goncourt that year. The plot focuses on a detective who attempts to find his identity 15 years after a strange accident.
Modiano is "very fond of the detective genre and he plays with it," said Peter Englund, a secretary of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize. Missing Person is the "story of a detective who has lost his memory. He's tracing his own steps through history to find out who he is. It's a fun book. He's playing with the genre, but he's still saying something fundamental about history and time."
2. Out of the Dark (Du Plus Loin De L'Oubli)
Out of the Dark tells the story of the narrator, who falls in love with a woman named Jacqueline only to have her slip through his fingers a number of different times. Like Modiano's other work, Out of the Dark plays with identity and memory. A 1999 New York Times review described it as an "existential noir novel [that] employs a moody, atmospheric prose ... to create a strange love story that somehow manages to be both suspenseful and contemplative."
3. Honeymoon (Voyage de Noces)
Like his previous novels, Honeymoon explores the back and forth between one's past life and one's current identity. Jean B., a documentary filmmaker, stops into a hotel in Milan while on his way to Paris. He learns that a woman killed herself two days earlier; he discovers he knew her when he was 20.
From Rupert Thomson's review for the Independent:
"Modiano is a jackdaw when it comes to genre. He steals from the spy novel and detective fiction - film noir too - but what interests him in the end is the gaps in people's lives, the bits that can never be accounted for. Jean B. is doing what Modiano is, trying to imagine or recreate a world that obsesses him, but he knows the task will defeat him. The past is like mercury - it slips between your fingers – and Modiano's style is so understated that his words seem only lightly attached to the page, almost not there at all, which replicates the near impossibility of what is being attempted."
Keep an eye out for this one, too: Modiano published his latest book, Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, just last week. It hasn't been translated from French yet, but given the wealth of publicity he's received since winning the Nobel prize, it likely will be soon.