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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Suspended Sentences

Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Suspended Sentences

Title: Suspended Sentences
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 68 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Suspended Sentences - US
in Suspended Sentences - UK
in Suspended Sentences - Canada
Remise de peine - Canada
in Suspended Sentences - India
Remise de peine - France
Straferlaß - Deutschland
Riduzione di pena - Italia
Reducción de condena - España
  • French title: Remise de peine
  • Published in English as: Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas together with Afterimage and Flowers of Ruin
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Mark Polizzotti

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Our Assessment:

B+ : evocative childhood piece

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
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:
  • "The three novellas that make up Suspended Sentences offer a fine introduction to Mr Modiano’s later work. Loosely autobiographical, they also hark back to the occupation, but at one remove, through the memory of a younger generation haunted by their parents’ unspoken trauma." - The Economist

  • "All his novels resemble crime stories, but the genre’s usual finale of clarification never occurs. Instead, a narrator, whose biography closely imitates Modiano’s, tentatively tries to understand the secret history of the atmosphere in which he has grown up." - Adam Thirlwell, The Guardian

  • "(T)he liveliest offering, a childhood memoir in which young Patoche is palmed off by his parents onto a surrogate family of loveable freaks in a town outside Paris." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "All this gives Suspended Sentences a vivid air of the conditional, which is, of course, the whole idea. For Modiano, memory, experience are fluid, fleeting, and even the stories we tell ourselves are subject to change." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)he best of the three (.....) The excellent details pile up." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "In the novellas translated now in Suspended Sentences, the narrator seems inseparable from Modiano, even calling himself Patoche, a nickname for Patrick." - Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

  • The title novella, a child’s eye view of the colorful gang of ex-circus performers and crooks who helped raise him, relates the boy’s sense of wonder and confusion amid his charmed, if sordid, surroundings." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Willful avoidance is a thing that the narrator of the complex, endlessly tangential second novella, Suspended Sentences, has become quite good at. At a glance it seems to be a series of harmless reminisces of "Patroche’s" provincial French upbringing, but Modiano immediately puts us on alert for dark things" - Scott Esposito, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Childlike bafflement is even more sharply focused in Suspended Sentences" - Ruth Scurr, The Spectator

  • "More fundamentally, what gives Suspended Sentences its distinctive quality is the voice of the child. Modiano conveys the thrill of exploring the woods, the magic of the nearby mansion haunted by a First World War flying ace, the odd things adults say which stick with you all your life, the joy of riding bumper cars, the mysterious allure of a logo on a can of motor oil, and ultimately the pain of being abandoned." - Henri Astier, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Each of these sketches is framed as the narrator’s search through his imperfect recollections for telling clues that might somehow illuminate periods of time "whose very reality I sometimes doubted."" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "In Suspended Sentences, this Proustian element grows stronger. (...) Even more than Afterimage, this is a story about trying to give meaning to the past." - 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:

       The title-piece, presented as the middle novella of the English-language collection, Suspended Sentences, is in fact the earliest of these three short work -- the first Modiano wrote (1988), but also the one dealing with the earliest period of his own life. All three focus on the narrator's early years, but Suspended Sentences goes back farthest, to his childhood.
       The narrator begins looking back to the time when he was ten years old. With his mother touring with a theater company and his father off in distant central Africa, young Patrick -- often called 'Patoche' -- and his brother live in an unusual household outside Paris, looked over by a trio of women (with another, called Snow White, then hired to look after boys).
       The account gives a good impression of childhood memories -- visits from their father, the mystery of a local chateau, the adult figures who pop up in his life without him fully able to understand who they are, events close but at the same time beyond the child's comprehension, events from which he is at some remove. So also the final scene, the police at the house, something serious has happened -- and the boys are sent to play in the garden, the closing line:

And my brother and I, we pretended to play in the garden, waiting for someone to collect us.
       That sums it up well, the boys in a pretend world, not really belonging, or at least feeling they don't. So, also, Patoche got himself expelled from a local school, and despite the efforts of those around him, he never finds his place.
       The narrator of Suspended Sentences is looking to the past, and he also looks -- from the present, another two decades on -- to a time some years after these childhood years, when he was a around twenty, in Paris. Still seeking. Typical here is the almost incidental mention, as he looks back at what has changed even just in those few years since those childhood days:
I lost my brother. The thread had snapped -- a gossamer strand. There was nothing left of all that ...
       Modiano's brother, Rudy, did pass away in 1957, and figures in several of his works; Suspended Sentences barely touches directly on that devastating loss that came so soon after most of the events described here, yet is, in a way, also very much about it -- addressed in typically oblique fashion by Modiano.
       A fine sliver of an attempt to make sense of (parts of) childhood and then the first steps to becoming a writer -- the student-age memories are from the time when he is twenty, when he admits: "I was trying to write my first book" -- and another fascinating piece of the larger Modiano-puzzle.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 November 2014

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Suspended Sentences: 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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