I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never heard of Patrick Modiano, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. This seems to happen quite often with me and Nobel Prize winners.
Tomas Tranströmer? Herta Müller? Elfriede Jelinek? It probably says more about me than the prize, but am I the only one? The prize has an aura of being very, very high brow, so much so that you wonder if anyone, except the Noble Prize Committee and some literature professors, actually read these authors. If they are that brilliant, how come they don’t reach a larger audience also outside their native countries? Perhaps it is a translation problem, perhaps it is not very accessible literature or perhaps a bit of both.
Tim Parks wrote an excellent article in The New York Review of Books on this a few years ago which explains the Nobel Committee’s dilemma and why the winners seem so esoteric at times. You’ve got to feel sorry for them, though, picking a winner from all the authors in the world must be a monumental task.
For the record (yes, I had to google him), Patrick Modiano is a French author, well-known in France, but little read outside his native country. According to the committee chairman, Modiano won “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”. I could only find four of his books translated into English on Amazon. This, however, is sure to change now…