November 19: surface

The older I get the more I am attracted to the surface of things. Patrick Modiano, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, does surface nicely. In his novel ‘Du plus loin de l’Oubli’ he tells us nothing about the inner life of his characters. They just turn up in the pages of the novel. We are not told of their backgrounds. We are not told of their motivations or psychologies. We observe them, as though through the wrong end of a telescope, moving, picking things up, wearing clothes, drinking coffee in stations or cafes, taking trains, driving cars, playing pinball, not knowing things. It takes enormous restraint and control for the writer to remain on the surface. The world the characters live in is the world of a De Chirico painting, a bland, mysterious cityscape of basic units of action and speech.
Depth is over-rated. Telling us why characters do things, what they think, what they feel. Leave me some space. I don’t want my chicken pumped up with harmful fluids. Tell me nothing!

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