Books, Reading, Review
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Book Review – ‘After the Circus’

9780300215892Title: After the Circus
Author: Patrick Modiano, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

“One of the hallmarks of French author Patrick Modiano’s writing is a singular ability to revisit particular motifs and episodes, infusing each telling with new detail and emotional nuance. In this evocative novel the internationally acclaimed author takes up one of his most compelling themes: a love affair with a woman who disappears, and a narrator grappling with the mystery of a relationship stopped short. 

Set in mid-sixties Paris, After the Circus traces the relationship between the narrator, a young man not quite of legal age, and the slightly older, enigmatic woman he first glimpses at a police interrogation. The two lovers make their uncertain way into each other’s hearts, but the narrator soon finds himself in the unsettling, ominous presence of others. Who are these people? Are they real, or simply evoked? Part romance, part detective story, this mesmerizing book fully demonstrates Modiano’s signature use of atmosphere and suggestion as he investigates the perils and the exhilaration of young love.” (Yale University Press)

Last month I finally made my first foray into the writing of Patrick Modiano, an author who I’ve been bursting to read since his 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature win. The book, Suspended Sentences, was everything I hoped it would be; it not only had me wanting more Modiano, but it left me wanting to only read Modiano, as per this tweet:

Needless to say, I had an incredibly enjoyable reading experience, which I wrote about briefly here. So it was with high hopes that I moved onto another of his books, which I was lucky enough to receive as an eGalley from the publisher.

I enjoyed this one a lot as well, evidenced by the fact that I read it in a morning, from about 8am to 11:45am. As with Suspended Sentences (and apparently many of Modiano’s other books), After the Circus deals with memory and recalls a Paris – and a life – that is now lost to the narrator. I really enjoy the reflectiveness of his writing and the feelings of nostalgia that it evokes.

If you’ve ever been to Paris, it’s easy to see the city in his work. Place and memory are closely linked, and Modiano has taken great care in his descriptions of the streets of the city. I didn’t feel as though I was inundated with descriptions of locations as I read, but there was enough there for me to both see the place in my mind, and to understand the importance it held for the narrator at that particular moment.

To me the characters are written in such a way that they are little more than anyone from our past, who had some significance for a small amount of time and therefore stand out a little more in our memories. While there was mystery and a certain level of grief attached to the characters in After the Circus, they seemed to fade in and out of the story at their own will rather than that of the narrator; there was a strange sort of fogginess over them. It made them feel unreal and had me questioning whether the memories of the narrator were that reliable and even he, at one point, questioned the realness of people:

“Naturally, I wasn’t expecting any moral support from Grabley. He had something in common with my father: they both wore suits, ties, and shoes like everyone else. They spoke unaccented French, smoked cigarettes, drank espresso, and ate oysters. But when in their company, you were seized by doubt and you felt like touching them, the way you rub cloth between your fingers, to make sure they really existed.”

Obviously I was unable to put this book down. It’s beautifully written and I have to tip my hat to the translator, Mark Polizzotti, as I was concerned that Modiano’s writing might be lacking something once translated. I can’t read French so I’ll never be able to compare the original and the translated version, but to me this book is just right and reads perfectly. I look forward to reading more of Modiano’s work (I’d still read it forever and ever) and I have everything crossed that Polizzotti remains involved in the translation side of things.

If you want a quick read that’s beautifully written, filled with nostalgia, touched by loss, and that allows you to be in Paris without actually being there, then you can’t go past After the Circus.

Many thanks to Yale University Press, London and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

 

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9 Comments

  1. “To me the characters are written in such a way that they are little more than anyone from our past, who had some significance for a small amount of time and therefore stand out a little more in our memories. ”

    That can be really quite powerful. Memory seems to be a popular topic in literary fiction these days, and certainly with ambiguity thrown in, and I’m incredibly glad for it. I’ll have to check this one out.

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    • Definitely do. I’ve found Modiano’s work has really had me thinking about memory and the past, and how immediately following the world wars, Europe (and I guess the rest of the world) just wanted to forget it all. Today all we want to do is remember it. It’s funny how the world works.

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      • How can you make sense of something so terrible? I feel like W.G. Sebald did a lot of that questioning as well. L lot of novels are still attempting to unpack those questions, and yet we’re still fighting wars. You’re right–the world is a funny place.

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  2. There seem to be a lot of reviews for Modiano’s books around lately (including yours), and everyone seems to be loving them. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to one eventually. Something to look forward to!

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  3. I’m bookmarking this review; I picked up Modiano’s book from the library and it’s sitting in my apartment in Wisconsin, waiting until I get back tomorrow to read it! If you like, hop on over to my world at http://www.thatssojacob.wordpress.com, and if you see anything you like, comment or follow! Have a great day and happy new year!

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