Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Suspended Sentences' by Patrick Modiano translated by Mark Polizzotti

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Suspended Sentences' by Patrick Modiano translated by Mark Polizzotti

Suspended Sentences: Three novellas

by Patrick Modiano translated by Mark Polizzotti

Yale University Press (Inbooks), $33.99 pb, 226 pp, 9780300198058

Outside academia, Patrick Modiano was virtually unknown in the English-speaking world before the announcement of his Nobel Prize in October 2014. Since then, no fewer than seven different US publishers have joined the race to bring out Modiano titles, which is gratifying for those familiar with the work of a man ranked as one of France’s great writers for over forty years. It is especially pleasing that Text Publishing has secured the rights for two of the author’s books, due to appear in 2015.

To the credit of Yale University Press, Suspended Sentences had been planned before the Nobel announcement, although the Nobel did lead to an acceleration of publication, and a hugely increased print-run. The translator, Mark Polizzotti, who is publisher and editor-in-chief at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had impressive experience when he came to Modiano, having already translated more than three dozen works from French, and several by one of France’s most quirky and stylistically complex contemporary writers, Jean Echenoz. Almost all of the preceding Modiano translations – with the exception of Joanna Kilmartin’s Dora Bruder – were lacklustre, lifeless. There remains a danger that some publishers, in attempting to ride the Nobel wave, will simply reissue the flops of yesteryear, rather than seek to meet the benchmark set by Polizzotti, who has found the vitality of voice, pitch, and tone that, in the French, make Modiano’s imaginary world so mesmerising. Polizzotti has also provided a thoroughly researched and readable introduction to the author and the ‘dreamed-up’ autobiographical impulses and strategies that inform his literary creation.

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Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

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