Fans of Maurice Chevalier won’t be pleased, but Modiano’s admirers will find this early work fascinating.

THE OCCUPATION TRILOGY

LA PLACE DE L'ÉTOILE - THE NIGHT WATCH - RING ROADS

“I know the life stories of these shadows is of no great interest to anyone, but if I didn’t write it down, no one else would do it”: three early novels by Nobel Prize–winning French author Modiano (Suspended Sentences, 2014, etc.) that look back to the years of the Nazi occupation.

In terms of storytelling, the first novel in the trilogy, La Place de l’Étoile (originally published in 1968)—the title refers to both the Parisian plaza and the requirement that Jews wear stars of David as identification—is the least conventional. It begins in the middle of things: “This was back when I was frittering away my Venezuelan inheritance.” Who is “I,” and what is this Venezuelan treasure? Working backward into the story, Modiano recounts the histories, invented and real, of an alter ego named Raphäel Schlemilovitch, who, in various guises, is revealed to be a Jew who has nothing but admiration for the German occupiers of France: “My God, how handsome were the youths on the far side of the Rhine!” The homoerotic yearning is widely shared: as the story moves along, Schlemilovitch becomes less and less attractive, even as his collaboration is shown to be commonplace. Yet it's also subtle; the presence of the Germans encourages all sorts of bad behavior, including the pornographic impulses of an aristocrat who wishes no less than “to prostitute French literature in its entirety.” It’s a strange adventure, reminiscent at times of the Céline of Castle to Castle. In the second novella, The Night Watch (1969), announcing a favorite theme, Modiano works a puzzle of unfixed identities, its narrator a double agent of whose sympathies we can never quite be sure. “I hereby authorize my biographer to refer to me simply as 'a man,' and wish him luck,” Modiano writes, meaningfully. The third, Ring Roads (1972), extends that puzzle across generations as it depicts more or less ordinary people simply trying to survive.

Fans of Maurice Chevalier won’t be pleased, but Modiano’s admirers will find this early work fascinating.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-372-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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