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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Honeymoon

Title: Honeymoon
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 1992)
Length: 120 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Honeymoon - US
Honeymoon - UK
Honeymoon - Canada
Voyage de noces - Canada
Voyage de noces - France
Hochzeitsreise - Deutschland
Viaggio di nozze - Italia
Viaje de novios - España
  • French title: Voyage de noces
  • Translated by Barbara Wright

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Our Assessment:

A : beautifully haunting and haunted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chicago Tribune . 24/9/1995 Constance Markey
The Independent . 6/5/2011 Rupert Thomson
The LA Times . 3/9/1995 Erika Taylor
TLS . 9/11/1990 Robin Buss

  From the Reviews:
  • "A poignant commentary on the fragility of human existence, Honeymoon is a passionate novel hidden under a deceptive and subtly ironic title." - Constance Markey, Chicago Tribune

  • "The man who has disappeared is investigating a disappearance. This slippery, atmospheric hall-of-mirrors effect is classic Modiano. (...) Modiano is a jackdaw when it comes to genre. He steals from the spy novel and detective fiction -- film noir too -- but what interests him in the end is the gaps in people's lives, the bits that can never be accounted for. (...) Honeymoon is a quest, a conundrum and a lament, but above all, perhaps, it is a meditation on the seductions and pitfalls of memory." - Rupert Thomson, The Independent

  • "Beautifully translated by Barbara Wright, Patrick Modiano's writing is deceptively simple. Taken individually, each scene, each sentence even, is quite clear, yet by the novel's conclusion, it feels as if one is looking at a piece of fabric that subtly changes color every time the light hits it, creating a myriad impressions." - Erika Taylor, The Los Angeles Times

  • "There are loose ends, chronological confusions and illogicalities: the first-person narrator, in particular, is a false character whose pretended ignorance of the facts (necessary to the form of the investigation) does not deprive him, at other times, of authorial omniscience. (...) All this is typically Modianoesque, a deliberate play on narrative conventions pursued beneath thesurface of a lucid and uncluttered narrative style." - Robin Buss, 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:

       Honeymoon is narrated by Jean B., a documentary filmmaker who travels the world in pursuit of his subjects but now, middle-aged, is in full mid-life crisis. It's been brewing for a while, too. He's had to share his wife, Annette, with his best friend, and as to his career, that's also long been just another means of escape, and one that's been looking increasingly futile:

The public had lost interest in the documentaries we were bringing back from the antipodes. All those journeys, those countries where they had monsoons, earthquakes, amoebas and virgin forests, had lost their charm for me. Had they ever had any ?
       Eighteen years earlier, in the early 1970s, he had happened to be in Milan and heard about the suicide of a visiting French woman; reading about it in the newspaper on the way home he discovered the woman was someone he had once known: Ingrid Rigaud, (Austrian-)born Teyrsen. When he was twenty, she and her husband had picked him up when he was hitchhiking, and he had spent some time with them. He had already preoccupied himself with her story years earlier (ten years before the present -- Jean's narrative glides across many temporal planes, including eventually Ingrid's in 1942), when he had collected notes and started writing some chapters: "the rough draft of a project cherished at the time: to write Ingrid's biography".
       In the present, Jean has decided: enough. He's due in South America for a film shoot, but he wants out. He's decided: he's going to disappear. He seems to have it fairly carefully planned, so that even when his friends see him off at the airport it looks like he really did set out for Rio; in fact he briefly heads to Milan, before returning to Paris: "It was in Paris that I had to pick up her traces".
       Okay, the escape-plan is not the greatest: returning to his home turf surely means the likelihood that he's recognized is many times greater than it would be anywhere else. And sneaking back home to pick up a few things probably also isn't a great idea. Still, he makes good his 'escape' and settles down in a hotel -- planning to return to some of his haunts in the Parisian periphery from his younger days, moving from hotel to hotel.
       Arguably his escape-plan wasn't meant to be the true severing from his past that he claims; after all, he admits from the start that: "As soon as I run out of cash I shall try to come to an understanding with Annette". Still, it's a truly comic scene to see how the plan actually (and almost immediately) crumbles -- a rare piece of pure levity in Modiano (though, in fact, there are surprisingly many subtle humorous touches to this novel).
       With its time-shifts in how the narrative unfolds -- jumping back and forth between different pasts and the present -- Honeymoon refuses to give the reader firm ground to stand on. The first 'honeymoon' mention -- what Jean terms the time Annette will spend with her lover, as soon as Jean has (ostensibly) left for Rio -- is just one more misdirect, for example, while the 'honeymoon' that is then much more central in the novel also barely qualifies as such. So also Ingrid's story -- its essence, which might explain her suicide -- remains barely addressed in Jean's descriptions of his encounters with her, when he was hitchhiking and then a few years later, briefly, in Paris, and is only revealed at the novel's conclusion. Meanwhile, Jean's present-day ambling through Paris, in search of a hold in the present or the past, feels almost aimless even where it has a bit of direction. Yet all this makes the denouement, as it were, -- Ingrid's story, from the Second World War -- all the more effective.
       Early on, Jean places his hopes in Annette being able to help him achieve his ultimate goal, even as he doesn't reveal any of it to her before he tries to disappear:
She's clever enough to cover my tracks and to cover them so successfully that it will be as if I had never existed.
       Jean doesn't simply want to disappear, he wants to be rid of every trace of himself, present and past. Much as, clearly, Ingrid did, driven to suicide as the only way of expunging everything she carries with her. This is why Jean is so drawn to her and her story, too: he too feels -- and is overwhelmed -- by a very similar crushing: "sense of emptiness and remorse".
       Jean admits: "My life had been nothing but evasion". Ingrid's story forces him to face his own life (even as he squirms through Paris in avoidance) -- but also only obliquely, through her story rather than his own (which is barely touched on -- Jean reveals little of himself, even as faithful Modiano-readers can recognize in him the standard Modiano-stand-in character and all the baggage he carries with him, addressed at greater length in some (well, many) of Modiano's other novels).
       Honeymoon begins with an almost noir feel with its elements of mysterious suicide and a man who wants to disappear, but it turns into something rather different, an affecting story of a very different sort, artfully unfolded by Modiano. Beautifully told -- and retold, in Barbara Wright's translation --, too, Honeymoon is an exceptional work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 November 2014

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Honeymoon: 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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