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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

La Place de l'Étoile

by
Patrick Modiano


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Occupation Trilogy



Title: La Place de l'Étoile
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in The Occupation Trilogy - US
in The Occupation Trilogy - UK
in The Occupation Trilogy - Canada
La place de l'étoile - Canada (French)
in The Occupation Trilogy - India
La place de l'étoile - France
Place de l'Étoile - Deutschland
in Trilogía de la Ocupación - España
  • French title: La place de l'étoile
  • Translated by Frank Wynne

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp, bustling; a maze of a literary journey

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 21/8/2015 Tobias Grey
The Independent . 30/7/2015 Boyd Tonkin
NZZ . 10/8/2010 Jürgen Ritte
Sunday Times . 2/8/2015 David Mills
The Telegraph . 18/7/2015 Duncan White
The Times . 1/8/2015 Robert Tombs
TLS . 9/1/1969 John Sturrock


  From the Reviews:
  • "It was the work of an angry young man who wanted to torpedo the Gaullist myth of France as a country full of resistance fighters. It was also a sonís revenge." - Tobias Grey, Financial Times

  • "A young writer's provocative jeu d'esprit, it rounds up every sacred cow in French literature and politics, and mercilessly slaughters them. (...) Translator Frank Wynne captures this scattergun savagery with formidable bite. Yet this literary Molotov cocktail or chucked cobblestone belongs to its moment: 1968, not 1944." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Solche Sätze waren offenbar lange Zeit zu viel für die deutsche Leserschaft. Das Terrain für Modianos sarkastische Art -- die in den späteren Romanen deutlich abgemildert zutage tritt --, sowohl den Antisemiten als auch den Philosemiten die Klischees wie nasse Lappen um die Ohren zu hauen, war noch nicht bestellt." - Jürgen Ritte, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "La place de l'étoile is Modianoís most famous book, but also his least typical: a frenetic, hallucinatory picaresque, jumping abruptly between time frames, locations and narrative perspectives to leave the reader dizzy and disoriented. (...) The novel is a fragmented history of French anti-Semitism, and the title itself is a pun (.....) The novel is self-consciously outrageous (Modiano himself removed some offensive passages from later editions) and its ironic pitch is unrelenting." - Duncan White, The Telegraph

  • "La Place de l'étoile is a spirited fantasy but a very literary one, the sort of well-read young Frenchman's novel where if the marquise happens to the leave the house one can be sure it is five o'clock. M.Modiano, moreover, is pop enough (or unwise enough) to steady himself now and again and list his sources (.....) Nevertheless, his first anti-novel having set him free so comprehensively from racial tension, he should be well worth reading when he writes the next." - John Sturrock, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       La Place de l'Étoile was Patrick Modiano's first novel, the work of a very young writer that is in some ways the work of its youthfully defiant and confrontational times -- it was published in 1968 -- but is also anchored very much in recent (but not yet surmounted) past, focused on France's complex relationship with Judaism and steeped in history going back decades, especially to the Second World War. In its experimentalism and exuberance it reminds of the early works of the slightly older J.M.G. Le Clézio -- but Modiano's focus and terrain is much more specific.
       The narrator is Raphäel Schlemilovitch -- a name meant to remind of the Yiddish shlemiel, as well as, in this book packed with (indeed, almost entirely built up on) literary allusions, Adelbert von Chamisso's classic tale, Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (also translated as The Shadowless Man). He is parody and caricature, a clownish figure who embraces both his Jewishness and prevailing anti-Semitic conventions. His ambitions include becoming: "the greatest Jewish-French writer after Montaigne, Marcel Proust and Louis-Ferdinand Céline" and composing a: "Judeo-Nazi Requiem"; he gets involved in the white slave trade, and also sees himself as: "the biggest pimp of the Third Reich" -- and even claims that:

the lover of Eva Braun, confidant of Hitler, I have long been the official Jew of the Third Reich.
       "Events did not unfold as I had expected", he notes at one point -- apt almost on every page of a story that jumps so wildly about. The final diagnosis -- Freud himself assuring Schlemilovitch that: "you are suffering from delusions, hallucinations, fantasies, nothing more, a slight touch of paranoia" -- offers an explanation of the many impossibilities recounted here -- yet of course is, in the person of Freud, itself no more real.
       Schlemilovitch's derangement is present-day, a reaction to a France that even more than twenty years after the war has not dealt with so much of its history, with shadows as far back as the Dreyfus affair still looming darkly over it. It is also particularly rooted in intellectual (re)action, and critical of word-spun (mis)depictions and French realities. Modiano refers to and writes off of many, mainly French, leading thinkers and writers -- some virulently anti-Semitic. Helpful endnotes offer background that English-speaking readers are likely far less aware of than French reader were half a century ago when the novel first appeared, but Modiano's caustic presentation leaves little doubt as to his use of these figures, even where the specifics aren't familiar.
       The novel even begins with a page that, stylistically, is straight out of Céline ... ellipsis and all .. but is certainly no homage. In fact, Céline is the figure Modiano most obviously grapples with (and against) throughout the novel, whether in the form of 'Doctor Bardamu' -- the character straight out of Céline -- or referring to his actual writing and name. There are many others as well, however, from actual authors and their books, such as Valery Larbaud and his Fermina Márquez to a mix of the real and imagined -- "the series How to kill your father by André Breton and Jean-Paul Sartre (the 'Read Me' series for boys)" -- to real works coupled with parody-names ("this insightful essay by your compatriot Jean-Paul Schweitzer de la Sarthe: Anti-Semite and Jew").
       Schlemilovitch is a writer, too, and out to shock the French establishment with a play he writes, for example -- proud that: "I have appropriated their clear and limpid language and transformed it into a hysterical cacophony". Yet in anticipating reactions to his own subversive efforts with the cacophony that is also La Place de l'Étoile Modiano has Schlemilovitch disappointed: the reviews are patronising, the bourgeoisie almost impossible to shake up, as with pretend open-mindedness:
The French have an overweening affection for whores who write memoirs, pederast poets, Arab pimps, Negro junkies and Jewish provocateurs. Clearly, there was no morality any more. The Jew was a prized commodity, we were overly respected.
       With both words and actions Schlemilovitch sets out to prove that any respect is undeserved, but what Modiano reveals in the incredibly harsh light of his story is that it's all false and hollow and superficial 'respect' in any case: what is prized is only a thin veneer of words and actions that allow the French to convince themselves they have put all this ugly past behind them. Modiano's text is one of exposure -- of an ugly status quo so deeply ingrained that it feels essentially unshakeable. But, boy, does Modiano try and shake things up.
       Imaginative, exuberant, and finely balanced between the comedy and fury, La Place de l'Étoile is a fascinating piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 September 2015

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Links:

La Place de l'Étoile: Reviews: Patrick Modiano: Other books by Patrick Modiano under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Patrick Modiano was born in 1945. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014.

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© 2015-2016 the complete review

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