- winner of the 2014 nobel prize in literature
In this strange, elegant novel, winner of France’s premier literary prize the Prix Goncourt, Patrick Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory.
For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently retired boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a onetime client, into his detective agency. Guy makes full use of Hutte’s files – directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century – but his leads are few. Could he really be the person in that photograph, a young man remembered by some as a South American attaché? Or was he someone else, perhaps the disappeared scion of a prominent local family? He interviews strangers and is tantalized by half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.
On one level Missing Person is a detective thriller, a 1950s film noir mix of smoky cafés, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self. Modiano’s sparce, hypnotic prose, superbly translated by Daniel Weissbort, draws his readers into the intoxication of a rare literary experience.
Delicate and cunning . . . Modiano’s method is to sidle up to subjects of mystery and horror, indicating them without broaching them, as if gingerly fingering the outside of a poison bottle. . . he opens dark doors into the past out of a sunlit present.
—John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement
Missing Person has the pace and economy of a good crime novel, but it also has an allegorical heft, suggesting that modern France’s own identity lies somewhere in the fog of occupation. —The New York Review of Books
Read excerpts of Modiano’s works here.