Pedigree, by Patrick Modiano
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve read my take on memoirs written by various celebrities or their ghostwriters. Memoirs by literary personalities are of another ilk. These tend to be, as you might suspect, literary works themselves. Such a one is Patrick Modiano’s brief work, Pedigree. Modiano is a Nobel laureate (2014), and has been called the “Marcel Proust of our time.” I confess: there are many holes in my own literary reading; among these holes live most modern French writers, including Modiano.
Why the odd title? After some reflection, I think he didn’t want to write this work; it would (and did) bring back many unpleasant memories of his childhood and early adult years. His parents were together for only a brief period, his mother an actress who remained all but destitute, his father a low level con man who did as little for his ex-wife and son as possible. So the author begins with a litany of those who passed through his family’s lives, henchmen of this father’s, old family friends. It reads initially like a modern version of Biblical Old Testament books. However, a story eventually emerges—the story of the strained relations between a maturing Patrick and his parents. The irony here is that he had no real pedigree; he was a youthful troublemaker whose developing interest was reading. Eventually, as with all children of difficult parents, he made his own way, without either.
The book is translated into English from the French by Mark Polizzotti. While this translation may have been difficult, given a French novelist’s creative word usage—there are not a few spelling and grammatical errors to give this reader the impression of a strained and sometimes awkward text. Still, Modiano’s wry wit reveals itself. His father married a younger woman, Mylene Demongeot, as Modiano came to adulthood, and whom Modiano refers to constantly as “the ersatz Mylene Demongeot.”
French literature has always been difficult for me, and this memoir is no exception. But its few pages are certainly worth an evening’s read.
My Rating: 16 of 20 stars