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Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano, translated by Mark Polizzotti. Book review

Sleep of Memory book cover. Picture of a silhouette of a woman under the arch of a bridge

I have become fascinated by Patrick Modiano’s dream-like worlds. His continual exploration of narratives of lives shifting between the edges of polite society and the shady depths of the criminal underworld of Paris is mesmerising. That you feel you might be getting a glimpse into Modiano’s unconventional upbringing, the truth of which is no less strange than the characters in his fiction, adds to the intrigue and sense of mystery emerging from the pages.

But he also leaves you in a state of never being quite sure to what degree you are being misdirected. Without doubt Modiano’s work has generated great debate about how much of it might be memoir and how much pure flights of imagination. This adds a frisson to something which in itself is intriguing, because of the use of Paris as a location and the characters which inhabit Modiano’s stories.

Sleep of Memory is a story of misspent youth told by an older man looking back on his life. These are stories with a ring of truth and a flavour of how far reality has been stretched.

The writing has a particular dream-like quality which lulls the reader into a meditative state, but at the same time leaves them with the feeling that Modiano is playing with their expectations of how each of the set pieces will end.

None of the characters can be said to lead an average life, existing very much in the same dream world as the narrator. Yet there is also an element of the everyday and common place which Modiano transforms into something mysterious and just out of reach.

An experienced translator of Modiano’s work, Mark Polizzotti has crafted an uncomplicated text which allows the story to come through, enabling the reader to sit back and enjoy the, maybe, tall tale of Modiano’s unreliable narrator.

Sleep of Memory was courtesy of Yale University Press.

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