French novelist Patrick Modiano, whose previous awards include the Grand Prix du Roman (1972) and the Prix Goncourt (1978), has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Modiano has co-written two screenplays based on his novels, Lacombe, Lucien (1974) with Louis Malle and Bon Voyage (2003) with Jean-Paul Rappeneau. Moshé Mizrahi directed an adaptation of Une jeunesse in 1983 and Patrice Leconte directed Le parfum d’Yvonne, based on Villa triste, in 1994.
“The title Lacombe, Lucien refers to the case of a boy of seventeen who doesn’t achieve a fully human identity, a boy who has an empty space where feelings beyond the purely instinctive are expected to be,” wrote Pauline Kael in 1974. “The time is 1944, after the Normandy landings, and the Nazis and their collaborators won’t be in power long…. Lucien is outside the normal range of a dramatist’s imagination. The screenplay… tries not to dramatize and not to comment. The director sets up his wartime situation and puts in as Lucien a teenage country boy, Pierre Blaise, who has seen few films and has never acted before—a boy, that is, who can respond to events with his own innocence, apathy, animal shrewdness.”
Updates: “The 69-year-old is the 11th French writer to win the prestigious prize,” notes the Guardian. “His name was announced at a short ceremony in Stockholm with Peter Englund, the Nobel Academy’s permanent secretary, reading a citation which said Modiano won: ‘For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.'”
“It is truly a shame that Patrick Modiano, who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature today, is so little known—in America, at least—outside of academic circles,” writes James McAuley in the New Republic:
In France, of course, Modiano, as the author of more than 25 works of fiction, is that characteristically French breed of celebrity philosophe, a fixture in the country’s intellectual aristocracy with connections to nearly everyone who matters: the experimental writer Raymond Queneau (an early mentor), the director Louis Malle (with whom Modiano co-wrote the screenplay for Lacombe Lucien in 1973), and the documentarian Claude Lanzmann, to list just a few. But Modiano is more than just one of those names you have to know if you want to finish The New York Times crossword puzzle without an iPhone: He is without question among the most gifted literary stylists at work in the French language today, and he is among the most playful and original theorists of fiction at work in any language.
Update, 10/10: The TLS gathers its reviews of Modiano’s fiction.