Patrick Modiano, Suspended Sentences (1988)

Reading a book by Patrick Modiano is immersing oneself in an atmosphere with a strong sense of place (Paris and its suburbs) and history (the post-war period and the 1950s). I feel that the experience is even better when you can have an uninterrupted immersion, which is why I enjoy his short books like this one.

Suspended sentences is about the childhood memories of a man named Patrick. Whether this is actually Patrick Modiano “for real” is open for debate but I personally don’t care. 10-year-old Patrick and his younger brother have been entrusted by their parents to several women who are… well… out of the ordinary. There’s a former circus horsewoman whose career was stopped short by an accident. There’s her mother and a pale young woman that they’re calling Snow-White. They live on the outskirts of a small suburban village and the villagers shun them, perhaps for good reasons.

The boy’s daily life is simple: school, playing with local boys and with his brother, roaming the countryside and in particular an abandoned palace owned by some aristocracy that fled at the end of the war due to some unsavory dealings with the Nazi occupants. He listens to the adults speaking but he doesn’t understand. He finds them mysterious, and he’s probably right, but some clues he’ll only piece together as an adult.

There’s a lot of “perhaps” in this tale, and if you like to have a neat resolution at the end of a novel you should skip this one. Fragments of memories, fragments of clues, shady people meeting at night in a suburban house, Patrick will never get to the bottom of what he witnessed as a child. As a mother I had to wonder about this weird arrangement found by the parents who could not take care of their two boys for an extended period (several months at minimum, more like a school year).

As a reader and Modiano lover I just saw that some serious people are actually researching if those events took place and what characters are actually real. I find it fascinating (and also a bit weird and obsessional to be honest). But it makes me happy that I’ve planned another Modiano for the summer!

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