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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sundays in August

Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Sundays in August

Title: Sundays in August
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Sundays in August - US
Sundays in August - UK
Sundays in August - Canada
Dimanches d'août - Canada
Dimanches d'août - France
Sonntage im August - Deutschland
Domeniche d'agosto - Italia
Domingos de agosto - España
  • French title: Dimanches d'août
  • Translated by Damion Searls

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Our Assessment:

B+ : bleak, but nicely turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Zeit . 13/10/1989 Luc Rosenzweig

  From the Reviews:
  • "Modiano ist weder Alfred Hitchcock noch Agatha Christie: Seine Kunst besteht nicht darin, ein Intrigennetz zu knüpfen, um schließlich den Leser mit der verblüffenden Wahrheit zu konfrontieren. Im Gegenteil: Die Helden Modianos bewegen sich ständig in einer nebulösen, konturlosen Welt, sie beziehen ihre Identität ausschließlich aus der geheimnisvollen Kraft ihres Gedächtnisses." - Luc Rosenzweig, Die Zeit

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:

       Sundays in August swirls like most of Modiano's novels, closing with the narrator looking back on a short period long ago of which he could say: "We were never as happy as we were then", while its beginning is more than seven years after those brief happy days. The story that is revealed, in slowly twisting fashion, stepping back and then further back moves from dark to bleak; the concluding scene's contrast only adds to the final poignancy.
       The narrator's name -- barely mentioned -- is Jean, but as in most of Modiano's novels, identity is closely guarded and often concealed, often under several layers. Typically, when someone wants to introduce him, he: "didn't give her time to say my name", as if that were already revealing too much, and, typically, when he was on the run with his girl, he convinced himself:

Pretend ? We just had to convince ourselves that we were different people than the Jean and Sylvia who, once upon a time, had haunted the banks of the Marne. We had nothing in common with those two anymore.
       But identities -- or at least the true self -- prove hard to change, much less leave behind -- and Jean and Sylvia are undone by other masqueraders. Even as Jean can see through their disguise -- or at least see it as disguise -- he doesn't see enough, he falls into their trap, even as he senses it closing around them. And even then, certainty eludes him about what happened, and what he has lost.
       The novel begins with Jean running across Villecourt in Nice, many years after they last met. Villecourt was the common-law husband of Sylvia, a woman who clearly also meant a great deal to Jean -- though the extent of their relationship is only gradually revealed. Unlikely as it seems -- at least from what we later learn --, when Villecourt brings up the subject, Jean wonders:
I wasn't even sure whether, after seven years, he was confusing her with someone else.
       Their shared history, back then, involved the girl -- and the diamond she wore, which became, back then: "The only solid, consistent thing in our lives, the sole inalterable point of reference". The diamond is significant enough that it has a name -- the Southern Cross -- and a: "long and bloody history". It certainly feels cursed: many of its owners don't have a happy history: guillotined, murdered, shot. Twice it changed hands during the Second World War, then disappeared -- "until it reappeared on Sylvia's black sweater". It's great value means that it presents an opportunity -- cash, equaling freedom. Yet it's no wonder that when the point comes that Jean and Sylvie truly take possession of it he is unsettled: "The diamond scared me as much as the gash on her cheek."
       The story doesn't unfold entirely backwards, but Modiano glides back and forth in time, then and now, in recalling those times with Sylvia, and Villecourt, and other interested (and uninterested) parties. "Everything eventually blurs together", Jean says -- Modiano's operating principle, employed to very good effect here.
       At heart a fairly simple story, Sundays in August is as twisted and bleak -- and, ultimately, satisfying -- as any noir, a fatalistic sense of inevitability tinged with just enough uncertainty hanging over it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 September 2017

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Sundays in August: 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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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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