French novelist Patrick Modiano has won the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature.
Modiano, the author of Missing Person and of the screenplay for Lacombe Lucien – a film by Louis Malle which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1975 – was the bookies’ favourite overnight. He beat a competitive field that included Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Belarusian investigative journalist and author Svetlana Alexievich, and Syrian poet Adonis.
He reportedly reacted with his customary modesty, calling it a “weird” experience. “I had Modiano on the telephone. I congratulated him and with his customary modesty he told me ‘it’s weird’, but he was very happy,” Antoine Gallimard of the French publishing house Gallimard told AFP.
Modiano, 69, published his first novel, La Place de l’Etoile, in 1968; he won the Prix Goncourt in 1978, and over the following three decades he has confirmed his status with a celebrated body of work, including Out of the Dark and Dora Bruder. “Actually, I never thought of doing anything else,” he said of his literary career in 2011 to France Today. “I had no diploma, no definite goal to achieve. But it is tough for a young writer to begin so early. Really, I prefer not to read my early books. Not that I don’t like them, but I don’t recognise myself anymore, like an old actor watching himself as a young leading man.”
Modiano was born in a west Paris suburb two months after World War II ended in Europe in July 1945. His father was of Jewish Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris – and his beginnings have strongly influenced his writing. The Swedish Academy, which selects Nobel Literature winners, praised Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.