Patrick Modiano might not be a household name stateside, but his books are well known in his home country of France. Now, he’s getting international acclaim as the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Unlike the Pulitzer, given for a single work, the Nobel Prize is given in recognition of a lifetime of writing. Now 69, Modiano has had some time to work up a nice catalog, even though he was originally something of an overnight success. We’ll get to that later …
As the winner of the highly coveted Nobel honor, Modiano receives $1.1 million and a metaphorical pat on the back. (It’s a very expensive way to say, “Nice work, buddy!”) As mentioned, although Modiano is well known in France, his appeal has yet to spread much further than that.
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In honor of the newly crowned king of the literary world, here’s a little roundup of things you need to know about 2014’s Nobel Prize in Literature winner.
1. He’s French
Yeah, that’s an obvious one. Still, I’ll say it again: Modiano is French. He was born in a Paris suburb in 1945 as the country recovered from World War II. He is the 15th French author to receive this award.
2. He was an overnight French success
Modiano first rose to prominence in 1968 with his novel, La Place de l’Étoile, but he wasn’t finished. In 1978, he received the Prix Goncourt, one of France’s most prized literary awards, for his novel, Missing Person.
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3. He’s multitalented
He’s written books, screenplays and even children’s books.
4. He’s sort of obsessed with World War II
As a child, Modiano had to watch his country struggle to survive after the Nazi disaster. The experience stuck with him, as many of his fictional works take place in Paris during World War II. Anne Ghisoli, the director of Librairie Gallimard (a leading Paris bookstore) calls him “a chronicler of Paris, its streets, its past and its present.”
5. He likes playing detective
Modiano has a thing for mystery. A couple examples: Missing Person is about an amnesiac detective who travels the world trying to piece together his identity, Dora Bruder investigates the disappearance of a young Jewish girl in 1941 and Out of the Dark follows a narrator who pines after a former lover who mysteriously denies that their affair ever took place.
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6. He gets to the point
His books are usually less than 200 pages.
7. He’s modest
He’s not one for public events and, even though he says he’s happy he received the Nobel Prize, he thinks it’s “bizarre.”
8. He mixes fiction with fact
According to the French newspaper, Le Monde, Modiano’s most recent release, So That You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood, is “a deeply personal work that takes readers into the writer’s psyche as he tries to decipher the mysteries of his past and dissect his memories.” Raised in such a tumultuous era, I’m sure Modiano has a lot of dissecting to do.
9. He’s one of those “troubled artists”
No matter his success, Modiano still sees himself as a failure. In 2012, he told Le Figaro, “The feeling of dissatisfaction with every book remains just as alive. I had a longtime recurring dream: I dreamt that I had nothing left to write, that I was liberated. I am not, alas, I am still trying to clear the same terrain, with the feeling that I’ll never get done.”
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