Suspended Sentences : Three Novellas, Paperback Book

Suspended Sentences : Three Novellas Paperback

Part of the The Margellos World Republic of Letters series

4.5 out of 5 (7 ratings)


A trio of intertwined novellas from the 2014 Nobel laureate for literature In this essential trilogy of novellas by the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, French author Patrick Modiano reaches back in time, opening the corridors of memory and exploring the mysteries to be encountered there.

Each novella in the volume--Afterimage, Suspended Sentences, and Flowers of Ruin-represents a sterling example of the author's originality and appeal, while Mark Polizzotti's superb English-language translations capture not only Modiano's distinctive narrative voice but also the matchless grace and spare beauty of his prose.

Although originally published separately, Modiano's three novellas form a single, compelling whole, haunted by the same gauzy sense of place and characters.

Modiano draws on his own experiences, blended with the real or invented stories of others, to present a dreamlike autobiography that is also the biography of a place. Orphaned children, mysterious parents, forgotten friends, enigmatic strangers-each appears in this three-part love song to a Paris that no longer exists. Shadowed by the dark period of the Nazi Occupation, these novellas reveal Modiano's fascination with the lost, obscure, or mysterious: a young person's confusion over adult behavior; the repercussions of a chance encounter; the search for a missing father; the aftershock of a fatal affair.

To read Modiano's trilogy is to enter his world of uncertainties and the almost accidental way in which people find their fates.


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Showing 1 - 5 of 7 reviews.

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Thanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley for a free copy of Suspended Sentences in exchange for my honest review.There are many similarities among the three novellas in Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, thus the thematic aggregation makes sense. However, I would have rated the book higher, based on the first two pieces, as the third had two major problems: one, that the rambling memories told in staggering jumps between now and then and sometime in between that made the first two pieces (Afterimage and Suspended Sentences) intriguing and engaging took a rather repetitive and lost shape in the last piece (Flowers of Ruin), which made the third part of the book seem to drag; two, that the Suspended Sentences and Flower of Ruin pieces had some parts that were almost exactly the same, which added to the drag towards the end of the book for me.Beyond this, the collection is a gem. The stories are about identity and memory and the difference point of view makes in our personal even national reality. They are also about forgetting, fading away, becoming invisible, and disappearing. Every story has a narrator who knew little about what was actually going on around him, who tries hard to remember and reconstruct what was and what wasn't, who was and who wasn't, and who could it have been. As the fragmented memories paint an incomplete, often unsure picture of France under occupation and after, there is something dark and sinister lurking behind the canvas, threatening to surface every now and then, but ultimately remains unseen. Modiano also presents one of the most haunting uses of a simple list of things, things past, things gone, things unsure and unknown, listed across the page like a shopping list of insignificant items...The translation is successful in yielding a clear and effective prose that evokes the full range of emotions required by the stories. Modiano's prose is haunting, as are his characters.Suspended Sentences is a great read for anyone who likes haunting memories wrapped up in mysteries that are long forgotten.

Review by

Recently I’ve been wondering if I haven't read enough of these "novels" that seem more memoir than fiction. The first person narrative where the narrator just happens to have the same first name as the author; the narrator's brother with the same name as the author's brother; the author and narrator are the same age (maybe even went to the same schools, churches, vacation spots, etc.); all very autobiographical and all--like much of our memory--fictionalized.Then I come across another gem and none of those things matter at all. Suspended Sentences is one of these gems. The stories are good, the writing is sublime, and the place is Paris. The three novellas are somewhat connected: the setting is post World II Paris, some of the characters appear in more than one of the stories, and they are all the memories of a man trying to piece together mysterious things that happened in his childhood and youth. The characters are fascinating, the stories are intriguing, and I was overwhelmed with the detailed descriptions of Parisian neighborhoods. This is one of those books that had me keeping a Google Map open on my laptop while I read, following the story through the streets. These stories could only have happened in Paris.Library copy.

Review by

These three short novellas — “Afterimage,” “Suspended Sentences,” and “Flowers of Ruin” — originally published over a five year period in the 1990s, share a mood of wistful nostalgia, fleeting and uncertain memory, with an undercurrent of menace. Modiano appears to draw upon his own life, especially his childhood immediately before the years of the Occupation in Paris. On the surface it seems as though he is recounting specific events, drawing together memories. But nothing solid coalesces, as least in terms of plot. Rather we see the city of Paris emerging out of layer after layer of different moments in mid-century, with a steady recitation of street names, addresses, business establishments, and sometimes people, many of which no longer exist. It is a Paris that corresponds, perhaps, only to the author’s own memory and imagination. And certainly what, precisely, that Paris evokes is elusive at best.This is the Paris of noir films, of George Brassai photographs, of fog and shadow, before the construction of the périphérique wiped out whole neighbourhoods and histories, when France was not yet reconciled to its collaborative past during the Occupation, and identities might be lost, invented, or exchanged merely through the theft of someone’s identity papers. That Patrick Modiano can’t settle on a clear image of this time is rather the point. Like his contemporary, W.G. Sebald, he endlessly mines an ineffable recent history in which memory and guilt, culpability and innocence, blur. Unlike Sebald, Modiano is teasing out the threads of familial responsibility rather than national shame. And thus there is always an undertone of accusation, especially against his father and whatever unsavoury acts he may have participated in, either willingly or through coercion, in those dark days.The writing is almost picaresque as it catches the frothy tops of these waves of memory. It never bogs down or sinks in an effort to explicate fully or justify. Which is not to say that the inconclusive inevitably leads to the unsettled. Rather, Modiano’s embrace of the elusive suggests a wider, more encompassing, comprehension of the whole and an unwillingness to judge it prematurely. Certainly fascinating and definitely recommended.

Review by

Suspended Sentences is a puzzling and surprisingly satisfying book that like all great art skirts the line been genius and fraud.

Review by

SUSPENDED SENTENCES: THREE NOVELLAS, by Patrick Modiano. Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Although the three novellas presented here were published separately over a five year period, they blend easily and seamlessly into a unified story of one man's life, from his troubled and unusual childhood well into his adult years. This is probably because of the first person narrative that runs through all three pieces, and also because of the peculiarly autobiographical nature of Modiano's fiction. Indeed the narrator in the stories is even named Patrick (or the diminutive 'Patoche' when he is a child.)Modiano is apparently a perennially best-selling author in his native France, and yet, at least until he won the Nobel Prize for Literature just last year, he has been virtually unnoticed here in the U.S. Various translators are now hard at work in remedying this situation, and Mark Polizzotti's translation here is a beautiful example of bringing Modiano's work to fruition in English.Modiano's milieu is, for the most part, Paris - but a Paris that has been nearly erased in the past fifty-some years. The sights, sounds and smells of the city from the forties through the sixties and later are nearly characters in these stories, giving them a specificity of setting seldom scene in modern literature.And that Paris is the scene of Patrick's childhood, one in which his parents are most often absent, and he and his younger brother Rudy are brought up by friends of his parents - has-been circus performers and misfits, often visited by shadowy gangster types and black marketers. His father, who may or may not have been a collaborator during the German occupation of Paris, and was briefly interned in a camp, comes and goes occasionally. His mother, an entertainer, always on tour, is hardly seen at all. Patrick and Rudy are often left to their own devices, raising themselves. Later, you get glimpses of Patrick as a struggling young writer, one who (like the author) continues to write his own life, trying to understand it, and a father who eventually disappears completely from his life.The overall tone in Modiano's fiction seems to be one of not so much nostalgia, but of longing, a yearning for a Paris that is no longer there. There is a circular, dreamlike kind of style at work here, as the narrator shifts often between past and and present as he meditates on the transience and fragility of life, both his own and that of others. There is the innocence of his childhood self, wondering about adult behavior, juxtaposed with his older self, looking back and still sorting out his parents' lives and behavior and trying to make connections with the still shadowy figures that helped to raise him and passed in and out of his life. I tried to think of American writers I might compare to Modiano, and I thought of Ward Just, and his novel, THE TRANSLATOR, as well as a more obscure book I read not long ago, Richard Stern's IN ANY CASE, a novel about the French resistance and the Vichy government. And yet Modiano, given the twisting autobiographical nature of his work, remains, I think, in a class by himself. I enjoyed this book very much. Enough so that I expect to read more Modiano as additional works become available in English. Kudos to Mark Polizzotti, his translator here. I will recommend this book highly.

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