The little-known Nobel laureate

A selection of older Modiano novels in the UL

A selection of Modiano novels in the UL

Since the announcement on October 9th of the 2014 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, much has been written in the media both here and across the Atlantic attempting to answer the question “Who on earth is Patrick Modiano?”. He is a well-known author in his native France, having won both the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française in 1972 and the Prix Goncourt in 1978, but is much less renowned in the English-speaking world, perhaps because only a few of his works have been translated into English.

More French authors have won the Nobel Prize in Literature than from any other nation. Patrick Modiano, the fifteenth French author to win, joins the company of previous winners such as Sartre and Camus and is the first French author to win since Le Clézio in 2008.

According to the Nobel citation, Modiano won the prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”. Modiano was born into a complex family background in July 1945, just at the end of World War Two, and it seems that he has been endlessly fascinated by the period of Nazi occupation of France in the years immediately before his birth. Memory and identity are key themes throughout Modiano’s body of almost 30 works and he has not shied away from tackling the uncomfortable subject of collaboration. Paris is the place he knows best and is the setting for his works showing great attention to detail.

Cover of Patrick Modiano, L'Herne volume 98 - 701:01.b.10.99

Cover of: Patrick Modiano, L’Herne volume 98 – 701:01.b.10.99

Modiano has been steadily writing a book every one to two years since his first, La Place de l’etoile (738:45.d.95.423), was published in 1968 when he was just 22. His latest book Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (on order) came out earlier this month. The University Library has acquired almost all of his titles (the awarding of the Nobel Prize has given us the opportunity to investigate and fill gaps in our holdings) and since the early 1970s has been buying them as they come out. His first two works from the late 1960s were not purchased until the late 1970s, probably coinciding with publicity about his Prix Goncourt win.

If you are interested in finding out more about Patrick Modiano, the University Library also has a number of books on him and his works, for instance the 2012 L’Herne volume devoted to him (701:01.b.10.99) and Dans la peau de Patrick Modiano by Denis Cosnard (738:47.c.201.74). Cosnard, a journalist at Le Monde, has also set up a useful and prolific blog on Modiano (

Katharine Dicks

1 thought on “The little-known Nobel laureate

  1. I have finally read a novel by him (in English translation). I don’t know how I feel about it, and still don’t know who on earth he is or what the book was about (besides the general theme of memory and the war).

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