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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sleep of Memory

Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Sleep of Memory

Title: Sleep of Memory
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Sleep of Memory - US
Sleep of Memory - UK
Sleep of Memory - Canada
Souvenirs dormants - Canada
Souvenirs dormants - France
Schlafende Erinnerungen - Deutschland
Ricordi dormienti - Italia
Recuerdos durmientes - España
  • French title: Souvenirs dormants
  • Translated by Mark Polizzotti

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Our Assessment:

B+ : typical Modiano, revisiting and dwelling on the past

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 25/10/2017 Raphaëlle Leyris
NZZ . 21/9/2018 Roman Bucheli
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/12/2018 Elisabeth Zerofsky
El País . 30/7/2018 J.L.Cebrián
Le Temps . 27/10/2017 Eléonore Sulser
TLS . 1/8/2018 Henri Astier

  From the Reviews:
  • "Schlafende Erinnerungen ist ein zauberhaft dünnes Buch, das man nie ganz verstehen wird, das man am schönsten begreift, wenn man es nicht vollends zu verstehen versucht." - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "There is so much suggestiveness that eventually the narrative must, and does, lead to a crime, though in Modiano’s handling the story becomes less a whodunit than a way out of what he describes as the “tangled dream from which I had just awoken.”" - Elisabeth Zerofsky, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Impresiona la exactitud minuciosa con que describe desde los nombres de los bares hasta las estaciones de metro. Su memoria cautiva nada tiene que envidiar a la de Proust, y la visión de su propia existencia muestra la esperanza y el miedo de su generación. La prosa de Modiano es a la vez conceptual y poética, intimista y barroca. Buscador empedernido de los misterios de París como Balzac, descubre sus pasillos ocultos y sus puertas traseras; mientras, el teatro le sirve a la hora de purgar su corazón de artista, para el que lo principal no es la gloria, sino saber sufrir." - Juan Luis Cebrián, El País

  • "A la manière d’une chambre noire, ce roman-là semble aussi recueillir, sur le mode qui est le sien, les signaux de lumière qu’envoient à travers le temps les souvenirs de l’écrivain et ses livres d’avant. (...) Pour le lecteur qui s’est plongé dans les livres de Modiano, Souvenirs dormants a quelque chose d’affolant. (...) Le livre procure une impression de déjà-lu, à la façon de certaines scènes de la vie, et c’est ce qui lui donne, malgré sa ténuité (il fait à peine 100 pages), son épaisseur." - Eléonore Sulser, Le Temps

  • "Souvenirs dormants resonates with other recurring Modiano scenes: a walk around Paris as a boy with his father and a shady associate; running away from boarding school to find refuge with a dangerous family acquaintance; being briefly sucked into occult circles by a mystically inclined friend. In this masterly book, Modiano finds new, hypnotic ways to describe the ever-receding horizon that is the past." - Henri Astier, 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:

       Sleep of Memory finds Patrick Modiano's first-person narrator -- the author himself, basically -- returning yet again, in his mind and on paper, to old haunts and memories. At one point he maintains:

     I am trying to impose some order on my memories. Every one of them is a piece of the puzzle, but many are missing, and most of them remain isolated.
       'The puzzle' is Modiano's writing-project -- whether the individual novels, such as this one, or the larger one; it is almost all of a piece. The connections to the larger project -- the whole body of his writing -- are clearer here than in some of the earlier work, referring to it and events that have cropped up in previous novels of his over the decades. And the approach remains similar: as he suggests about one piece of the past, and trying to come to grips with it:
     The only way to defuse this thin file once and for all was to copy out portions of it and blend them into the pages of a novel, as I did thirty years ago.
       It is not always something as tangible as a file -- mostly, it is memories, vaguer and more malleable -- but even in this account the narrator relies on markers from the past, including lists of names, books, and the place-markers of Paris itself, old addresses, cafés, and hotels. As he notes:
For me, Paris is littered with ghosts, as numerous as metro stations and all the dots that light up when you press the buttons on the electric route map.
       As so often, Modiano's narrator fixates on the time when he is a young adult, in the mid-1960s -- though both earlier and later times bleed into this as well. It is around the time that he is enrolled at the Sorbonne, but just for the military deferment; he doesn't actually go to class; he earns some money dealing in books. But mostly he seems to wander the streets of Paris, seeking -- something he already started doing in his teens ("I got used to walking the streets on my own"). It is a blur of sameness and change; typically, he describes a re-encounter with some he hadn't seen for years and finds: "we had found each other again six years later in the same street where we'd first met, but it didn't seem as if any time had passed".
       In Sleep of Memory the narrator describes encounters with a variety of women. Tellingly, the opening pages describe his fruitless efforts to meet a girl who was the daughter of an associate of his father's, a connection that never goes beyond a limited telephone call, though he tries to call several more times and repeatedly lingers in front of her home: it's typical of the relationships that don't so much go nowhere as simply hang open in the air. Indeed, what relationships there are here are barely gone into by the narrator; the descriptions remain very much surface.
       The drama in Sleep of Memory, when it bursts onto the scene, is surprising. There's violence here -- a scene where he feels he needs to use force to escape and then a more shocking scene he is called to, violence he isn't involved in but which he sees and tries to deal with the aftereffects of. The latter is an event of June 1965 he: "alluded to twenty years later, in 1985, in a chapter of a novel", but was still hesitant to describe more closely then, and only now, another three decades later, does he reveal more of what happened -- another building block of the larger Modiano-edifice, even if one that has long been (and continues to be) somewhat set apart:
     When I think about that summer, it feels as though it's become detached from the rest of my life. A parenthesis, or rather, an ellipsis.
       The narrator notes that, for much of his youth: "flight was my modus operandi" -- until about the age of twenty-two, that summer of 1965, when the point comes when he realizes: "I had been letting myself drift and that, if I didn't do something about it immediately, I'd be swept away". Much of Sleep of Memory is still deep in that drift, but the narrator also works towards dealing with the turning-point and after.
       Several books feature prominently in the novel, from childhood reading on his bookshelves to some more occult titles from a more recent phase back then. Among them, The Eternal Return of the Same gives him much to ponder; it's an idea he really takes to:
At every page, I said to myself: if we could relive something we'd already experienced, in the same time, the same place, and the same circumstances, but live it much better than the first time, without the mistakes, hitches, and idle moments, it would be like making a clean copy of a heavily revised manuscript ...
       Modiano's novels are a form of reliving the past, a reëxperiencing and reconsideration of it, with the accumulated knowledge and experience of the years since obviously coloring it. His narrators recognize that the experience is lost in the past -- their memories are foggy and have gaps -- yet still try to reach, understand, and, in part, re-shape them to fit in with their present-day understanding.
       Sleep of Memory is yet another variation on Modiano's now very familiar exercise, engaging with a slice of his past. Leaning some on previous works, it's not an ideal introduction to his project for the newcomer, but for those who have been following his work it is a welcome addition.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 October 2018

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Sleep of Memory: 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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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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