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.