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Trademark Modiano, brittle and elegant, with more questions than answers.

Brooding, philosophically rich novel by Modiano (Missing Person, 2014, etc.), recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature.

Jean B. is a filmmaker—a documentary filmmaker, more precisely, and one constantly on the go from continent to continent and culture to culture: “I was just back from Oceania,” he recalls, “and I was to leave for Rio de Janeiro a few days later.” This tour finds him on a short layover in Milan while traveling to Paris by train—and everyone knows that you don’t go to Milan in August, when everyone is gone or hiding from the heat. Apparently the heat is too much, or something is too much in any event, for another traveler, Ingrid Theysen, who, Jean learns, killed herself a couple of days earlier after drinking just the same drink he has now ordered. It’s not the drink’s fault but instead the weight of the whole oppressive 20th century: the war, the occupation, the whole bit. The thing is, Jean knew Ingrid two decades earlier, when she’d brightly said, “We’ll pretend to be dead.” Why should Ingrid want to do so? What secret did she hold—and how about Rigaud, the fellow whom she’d run off with during the war, leaving it to her poor parents to place advertisements begging for information about their missing daughter? Modiano is in high mystery mode as Jean sets out to retrace Ingrid’s steps past “groups of German soldiers and French policemen,” hugging the walls while trying to avoid being seen. And why? Well, there’s the nub, and Modiano takes his time solving the puzzle and then not filling in every blank—not least the one that might tell us why Jean should be interested in the first place. Along the way, he coolly evokes the black-and-white grittiness of France in the early 1960s, when so many were trying to forget the events of 20 years before, and leaves much of the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Trademark Modiano, brittle and elegant, with more questions than answers.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56792-538-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Verba Mundi

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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