The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 29 October 2015


Hello Gentle Reader

Honeymoon is a term that is followed by the sound of tin cans rattling behind a car. It is the departure of two individual lives, now intertwined in to two.  The cheers of a crowd; the rice raining down. A sign in the back window stating: “just married.” Two lives behind; one anew. A honeymoon is that celebratory moment: an intermission between curtain call and opening of a new act. The mood: light and joyous. The backdrop: one of rosy reds, blushing pinks, and soft yellows floating around the edges. But the backdrop must fade. Back to the neutrals of mundane living: the brown walls, the grey light, the passing of days interchangeable with one another. The spark is kept alive by small comments: “Honey I am home!” or “Good morning wife!” Quick pecks on the lips or cheeks. Off again to work. Rendezvous back at home for dinner, and an evening together, where you can snuggle on the sofa and watch the news, and see how the tragedies of the greater world slowly begin to invade the hermetic happiness only the two of you can possess. All novelties fade. There is no more: “Honey I am home!” or “Good Morning Wife!” Quick pecks are exchanged when they are remembered, and time affords. The honeymoon then is over. Marriage becomes a frightening life sentence, once the honeymoon is over. A welcomed change now becomes a routine reality. Spice it up. Seedy hotels, red curtains drawn. The pseudo-honeymoon suite; populated by lovers and paramours. Now what holds the two of you together is no longer love, but an illicit guilt that cannot be confessed. You both accuse each other though; forcing you to run back to the arms of the other, or the legs of another. This is what it means when we state: the honeymoon is over.

Patrick Modiano is a historian of the black hole. Specifically, Modiano is the spelunker of the black hole of contemporary French history. To elucidate further; Patrick Modiano crawls deep inside the caverns of Paris’s heart; its deepest recesses have been bleached by amnesia, but further inspection reveals a city – and a subsequent society; that had been overcome with moral ambiguities. Ambiguities further enhanced by the reigning and conquering foreign power. In the novels of Modiano identity, memory, suppressed guilt, and grief, are always his reoccurring subject matter. Yet Modiano is a writer who can infuse his works with a new angle to each theme; a refreshed emotional appeal; and always an enhanced sense of doom and menace that always itches at the reader. Yet the atmosphere, always maintains the same; giving off the sense of depletion and abandonment. 

It is stated that with every book that Modiano writes, that he adds another chapter into a larger novel, which engulfs each of his novels. Yet I get the impression that Modiano is either constructing a larger and larger depleted mansion with his novels, or is exploring a forgotten hotel, that has fallen into disrepair. The roof leaks with the spring rain. The now surviving windows that have gone unscathed from rocks are covered in a thick coat of dust. The floor boards creak with uncertainty. The paint has chipped. The wall paper peeled. Autumns leaves have blown down the halls like burnt pages of old books. The kitchen has gone cold. Its hearth snuffed out years ago. Any bed that remains only has a rusted frame left. If a door has a knob still intact, it will fall, bounce and roll away. If the door stands it too is on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, leaving the threshold open for invasion. When it snows the place is frozen, and there is no escaping the snow. It drifts in every entry way, becoming an unwelcome guest, whose presence will always be coldly felt. In summer the weeds become atrocious. They’ll sprout in the missing floor. They peek inside windows. When an August storm rolls around, one can only pray that the roof does not blow off; or that a tree does not find itself crashing down. The room that surely “Honeymoon,” is written for – most certainly is the pseudo-honeymoon suite; where the once pink curtains, of a blushing bride have faded to the decomposing colour of carnations sitting in stagnant water. The paint a colour that once must have been deemed romantic, has all but turned to the colour of a rotten strawberry – over ripened by the sun. There is no bed; and please do ignore the hole in the ceiling with the drooping electrical wires.

“Honeymoon,” like all of Patrick Modiano’s work that I have read so far, is sparse at a mere one-hundred and twenty pages long. In similar Modiano fashion it is a hazy dream of a novel, where past, present and chance all collide unexpectedly and begin to stir up the dust. In this dust storm questions are raised, events revisited, and individuals longed for once again. But the past is the past; a place that can only exist within photographs and memories. All attempts at reconnection will either end in failure, roadblocks, or realisation that the present has taken over; what little spots of nostalgic paradise were there.  However Modiano is not a writer who delves into the past with nostalgia. Rather he is a writer that wishes to confront an ambiguous past; but the past can only bring questions and never truly offer any real answers.

The novel concerns Jean B, a documentary filmmaker, but appears to think of himself more and more as an explorer and excavator. He has traveled the world. From continent to continent he finds his subjects, and films them. Yet now in the novel he middle aged and in a full blown mid-life crisis. His work – at once a means of escape from the realities of life; has shown itself to becoming increasingly futile and obsolete with the times:

“The public had lost in the documentaries we were bringing back from the antipodes. All those journeys, those countries where they had monsoons, earthquakes, amoebas and virgin forests, had lost their charm for me. Had they ever had any?”

Of course, Jean B’s personal life is equally interrupted by its own blend of personal explorations. Jean B shares his wife Annette with his best friend Cavanaugh. All of this surely would lead to many having a midlife crisis: an interesting career, barely able to maintain itself; a wife who runs to the arms of another, upon her husband’s departure. Infidelity; and becoming obsolete.  Where then is one to take refuge? For Jean B, it is to become a guest in the lives of two people who are now nowhere to be found; but whose chance encounter acquaintance had left a shadowy like imprint on his person.

The novel opens with Jean B in Milan. Where he is confronted with the knowledge, which nothing is open in Milan, with the heat the way it is. All the shops are closed, as people have gone elsewhere to look for sanctuary from the heat. It is there in hotel bar, that Jean discovers a woman had committed suicide. That woman happened to be Ingrid Riguad maiden name Teyrsen. Ingrid years earlier along with her husband, who goes by the name Riguad, had picked up a hitchhiking Jean B in his twenties, many years prior. What follows, is Jean B’s attempts to disappear from his life of fading documentary films, wasted excursions, and his own wife being shared with another. His attempts: to disappear. Yet, without going anywhere.

What remains is Jean B’s, aimless time wandering the suburbs of Paris. There he recollects the past of Ingrid and Riguad. A elusive couple, that just by chance picked him up one day in his youth, and who he found himself greatly attracted to; staying with them for a time, before returning to his own life. Now in his current circumstances, living his fantasy to disappear, Jean B begins to recount their life – or reimagine their life during the French occupation. What arises is the realization that Riguad and Ingrid’s life together, was harrowed by a continued sense of menace with increased danger always at the forefront of their minds; to the point that their lifestyle had become mundane:

“The days, the months, the seasons, the years, went monotonously by, in a kind of eternity. Ingrid and Rigaud barely remembered that they were waiting for something, which must be the end of the war.”

Despite it always being their honeymoon, the war always found itself invading it, disturbing it, and forcing the newlyweds, as they were, to find a way to protect themselves from the intrusion they would evidently have to: “pretend to be dead.” An answer (or suggestion) that Ingrid offered a young Jean, when the couple had explained that they would avoid their neighbours – by being quiet, by pretending to sleep, or by pretending to be dead. It is almost as if the couple had truly never escaped the war, and had always maintained their anonymity that had successfully allowed them to survive the war. This will always leave Jean B, to continuously imagine and fabricate the life of Ingrid. A woman, who he finds some form of kinship with, but is at the same time completely distant from him, she is an ethereal being who had slipped through his fingertips, so he reimagines her life, and follows the fading footsteps of Ingrid and Riguad to their old haunts, in hopes of getting a better understanding of her.

“Honeymoon,” by Patrick Modiano, is a quiet novel that is haunting and beautiful. It is written in his signature dream like style; that is clipped and atomized, and lacks any real literary flare. His sentences are clean lines; but fail to elucidate beyond what is hinted and then skirts around the edges. It’s a haunting story, about Jean B facing his own attempts to avoid, and fail, and looking into Ingrid’s life forces him to rethink his own – as she herself had escaped the persecution of the Nazi’s but the Twentieth Century and its disasters had haunted her; and though escaping becoming a victim a historical number amongst many, Ingrid herself had escaped life itself. Still in Modiano’s oeuvre “Honeymoon,” shows how the writer, continues to probe the crimes, and the disaster, that is buried deep down in the black hole of a past rarely discussed. Modiano himself though wishes to bring atonement and shed light on the oblivion that is working on bleaching away all remnants of the time. 

The last thought for the book is once again the name Pacheco appears for a character. Previously Pacheco had appeared in: “Flowers of Ruin,” and Patoche in “Suspended Sentences.” This Pacheco, had a patch over his eye, and was a connoisseur of antiquarian furniture. In other words, this particular Pacheco is a man who loots the property of those who were sent away, and sells them to his ‘contacts.’

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

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