(Review of Patrick Modiano’s novel, Invisible Ink.)
If there is a suitcase, forged documentation, café-life and tons of mileage accumulated tramping the streets of Paris, it’s a pretty safe guess that you are inside a Patrick Modiano novel. The French writer, whose Nobel Prize in 2014 launched him into a new stratosphere of exposure, acclaim and readership (with many of his works now having been translated into English), has been haunting a familiar path, a twilit phantom territory all his own, for the past fifty-plus years.
In his latest novel, Invisible Ink, the plot, as is par for the course in Modiano’s novels, is a simple one: A young man, employed as a private detective, searches for a missing woman. This is how Modiano works. Give him a basic point of intrigue, or agitated stimulus, and from there he “wanders” in a centrifugal haze as he constructs through language all that is clean, terse and elliptical. Invisible Ink, like many of Modiano’s books that have preceded it, eulogizes itself as an adagio and existential meditation on memory, loss, longing and identity, where past and present fluidly intersect, or as Jean, Modiano’s narrator establishes, “I have never respected chronological order. It has never existed for me. Present and past blend together in a kind of transparency, and every instant I lived in my youth appears to me in an eternal present, set apart from everything.”
Like Proust before him, Modiano is an orphaned stalker of memory, and his oeuvre, taken as a whole, could be regarded as a continuous novel, a noir-inflected search for lost time. If Sam Spade were channeled through Proust, and then cast in a David Lynch film, hints of Modiano’s essence would seep through.