“Suspended” in time

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First Posted: 12/7/2014

The film reel begins to play. Time becomes nothing but as constant as a slide appears and recurs. We watch and analyze — each time, the viewing offering a different, unsuspecting detail we missed before. Now imagine this picture as part of a larger work, a collection of consciousness and recollection on life. For Nobel Prize-winning French novelist, Patrick Modiano, that image has already come to fruition in his latest work, “Suspended Sentences”.

Separated into three novellas, the collection includes “Afterimage,” “Suspended Sentences,” and “Flowers of Ruin” — all works that have been previously published without connection. Mark Polizzotti, who was tasked with the often difficult process of translation, completed the work, resulting in a striking and poignant spectacle of what our past means to us.

All of the novellas focus on difficulties of Parisian life during a tumultuous wartime period. Beginning with “Afterimage,” Modiano follows one man’s attempts to seek out a prolific but mysterious photographer, Francis Jansen, who wanted nothing more than to be forgotten — his life, only clinging to the images he captured in Paris during the 1930s. However, as readers delve deeper, we soon discover Jansen’s reasoning for obscurity. It is within the first work that Modiano offers the most pivotal piece of information through the narrator’s reflection: “Every time I look at that picture, it hurts. It’s like in the morning when you try to recall your dream the night before, but all that’s left are scraps that dissolve before you can put them together.” The sentiment continues to resonate through the entire collection.

The middle and titled piece, “Suspended Sentences,” which is the most diverse of the three in tone, follows a young narrator who attempts to understand the complexities of the unorthodox family that is currently caring for him. The last novella, “Flowers of Ruin” is in much the same vein of Modiano’s most notable book, Rue des boutiques obscures (Missing Persons). The piece regards an unsolved murder, during the time of the Nazi German Occupation in France alongside the French Resistance during World War II.

Modiano’s work greatly connects to history, particularly, to the aspects we do not wish to recollect. As fellow writer, Aldous Huxley said: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Ultimately, through our own experiences, we choose to change our history in order deal with the past, and most of all, attempt to leave behind the history we cannot change when the reel finally stops.