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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Flowers of Ruin

Patrick Modiano

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

To purchase Suspended Sentences

Title: Flowers of Ruin
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 81 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Suspended Sentences - US
in Suspended Sentences - UK
in Suspended Sentences - Canada
Fleurs de ruine - Canada
in Suspended Sentences - India
Fleurs de ruine - France
Ruinenblüten - Deutschland
in Flores de ruina - España
  • French title: Fleurs de ruine
  • Published in English as: Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas together with Afterimage and Suspended Sentences
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Mark Polizzotti

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Our Assessment:

B+ : another fine retrospective-reflective work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 29/11/2014 .
The Guardian . 19/11/2014 Adam Thirlwell
The Independent . 7/11/2014 Jonathan Gibbs
The LA Times . 21/11/2014 David L. Ulin
The NY Times . 13/1/2015 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/12/2014 Alan Riding
El País . 20/10/2012 José Luis de Juan
Publishers Weekly . 20/10/2014 .
San Francisco Chronicle . 10/12/2014 Scott Esposito
The Spectator . 6/12/2014 Ruth Scurr
TLS . 5/12/2014 Henri Astier
Wall St. Journal . 7/11/2014 Sam Sacks
The Washington Post . 3/12/2014 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Modiano’s novels are pervaded by a sexual and moral ambivalence and by social and political ambiguity. Improbable aristocrats, likeable eccentrics, would-be actresses, circus performers and cabaret workers -- no one is ever who they appear to be. And Paris features as a character in her own right, refusing to surrender the secrets of her past." - The Economist

  • "(Y)ou don’t read Modiano for answers. You read each Modiano novel for its place in a giant sequence: a new restatement of a single unsolvable crime." - Adam Thirlwell, The Guardian

  • "Flowers of Ruin is darker (...) It is that awareness of his personal proximity to the darkest hours of French history that haunts Modiano’s work, and breeds its tone of ambivalence – and, in the end, justifies its obsessive repetitions." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "Modiano's characters are engaged in an investigation of consciousness, or identity, which grows more essential the more disconnected they become." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Mr. Modiano writes clear, languid and urbane sentences in Mr. Polizzotti’s agile translation, yet his fiction has a distant quality, as if you were hearing about its incidents from one room over." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "Like scattered memories, stories come and go, some connected, others not. " - Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

  • "La escritura de Modiano tiene la sencillez de lo que se ha trabajado como un mármol hasta que no queda ni un mero arañazo de uña, sino el brillo sedoso de la frialdad, una frialdad a veces de morgue." - José Luis de Juan, El País

  • "(T)he slackest of the three" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Modiano’s unconventional accounts of vanished hours show how the urge to solve a long-lost crime, or to reclaim forgotten memories, ultimately leads to inscrutable vanishing points. To be sure, this is a source of dread and longing, but it is also an opening onto an important journey." - Scott Esposito, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The novellas are discrete and discontinuous but remarkably coherent. They are structured like detective stories but offer no resolution. Instead they investigate the shape of memory, probing moral and historical complexity with spare, finely honed prose." - Ruth Scurr, The Spectator

  • "The evocative power of Modiano’s style lies in its blend of clarity and imprecision. People and places are rendered in detail, but what matters most is hinted at or left unsaid." - Henri Astier, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Such themes give this autobiographical fiction a broader national significance. But Mr. Modiano is also profoundly regionalist. For all his stories’ ambiguities, Paris’s streets and sights are transcribed with emphatic specificity" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Though enigmatic and open-ended, Modiano’s remembrances of things past and his probings of personal identity are presented with a surprisingly light touch. He is, all in all, quite an endearing Nobelist." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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:

       Flowers of Ruin is another of Patrick Modiano's works that looks back to a past where much remains indistinct. There's even (a) real mystery here. The narrator begins by looking back a quarter of a century -- and typically:

     Those areas looked the same to me as when I'd last seen them in the early sixties, as if they'd been abandoned at around the same time
       But he also looks beyond that, to a story that happened here before his time, in 1933, a mysterious apparent double suicide. Some thirty years after the fact he looked into the crime -- finding some traces but few answers, of course. He can retrace some of the steps of the couple, determine some of the people they might have encountered, but the definitive explanations and the bigger picture remain, as always, elusive.
       Beyond that, Flowers of Ruin isn't simply the story of this crime, or the narrator's research into it. The young man also finds other mysteries of Paris -- so also a man of dubious identity whom he tries to figure out, something that -- like most everything -- proves elusive and escapes him.
       Even as the events, incidents, and most of the preoccupations described here are different from Suspended Sentences, the overlap is clear -- as is the significance of this formative and defining period in the author's life, as here too he acknowledges:
I began writing my first book. It was neither a vocation nor a particular gift that pushed me to write, but quite simply the enigma posed by a man I had no chance of finding again, and by all those questions that would never have an answer.
       All three novellas collected in the English-language volume titled Suspended Sentences feature, in significant parts, Modiano age eighteen through his early twenties -- and the older Modiano looking back on those days from a quarter of a century or so on. It doesn't make for a complete picture -- indeed, Modiano has returned to this time-period in numerous other works as well -- but does give a good sense of his concerns and interests, and what still haunts him.
       Flowers of Ruin is also a fine Paris-novel, as part of the narrator's process of rediscovery involves traversing it over these different temporal planes -- from 1933 through the present, with Modiano looking into many periods from his own past, from his mid-teen years to more recently; typically, a scene begins: "I remember a car ride, five years later" .....
       Flowers of Ruin doesn't quite have the focus of the other two novellas in this collection, straying across more larger mysteries that vie for attention (and peter out). But it's a fascinating additional piece in the larger Modiano-picture (which is much larger than just these three novellas).

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 November 2014

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Flowers of Ruin: 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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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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