Revisiting Patrick Modiano’s Sleeping Memory

But after half a century, the few people who witnessed your early years have finally disappeared – and anyway, it’s doubtful that many of them would make the connection between what you’ve become and the vague image they’ve retained of a young man whose name they might not even recall.

Patrick Modiano, Sleep of Memory

At the age of 74, Monsieur Patrick Modiano has long been discarded of the innocence of age. After all, has Paris ever raised up an innocent child? The city of light and the city of a moveable feast, Paris represents the darkest solitude and the heartless longing of an old man who has been to far too many wars and yet, peace was never achieved.

A man like Monsieur Jean Patrick Modiano.

In “Sleep of Memory,” the story reflects what the title offers. With a few simple words that bring with them sadness and desolate of a man who had been washed up on the shore while others died at sea, Monsieur Modiano weaves out the dream of a Paris that will never return.

A Paris that’s been lost to the cruel hands of time. A Paris with glorious dreams and fatal reality. A Paris that’s like your unrequited lover. And as you grow older, she grows apart from you, leaving you with a bitter nostalgia for the things that never came into existence.

The neighborhood was not the same. Neither was I. We had both regained our innocence.

Patrick Modiano, Sleep of Memory

I live my days knowing full well that nothing will ever stay in the same place. Both the wrinkle on my mother’s face and the only friend I have for over 10 years: they grow into the grotesque monsters that I fear and ardently love. Learning far too much about business practices and reading far too little fairy tales, I fear changes and the escape from the innocence of age.

And with “Sleep of Memory,” I suppose Monsieur Modiano has the same fear. The fear that one day, when you wake up, the faces around you are no longer familiar, the places in your mind slowly drift away, and you are all alone for the rest of this journey called “Life.”

Sitting at the same table in the place that used to be my favorite café, looking out of the same windows, I marvel at how all of this scenery – the tables, the food, the chair, the windows, and even the humans crossing by this road – all of it will eventually become a sleep of memory.

The café is no longer there. The restaurant opposite it is also gone. My usual restaurant has changed their window blinds. The department stores have grown larger in size and more plenty in number.

It’s strange, I thought. It’s really strange how we are racing towards the same ending, turning into dust at the flick of a finger. And it’s also strange how we choose to persist with the full knowledge of that ending.

And no other ordinary person can put that strangeness into words better that Monsieur Jean Patrick Modiano. The feeling of being lost in the change of time. The feeling of not knowing where one is on the journey to their ends. The brief feeling of sadness and solitude.

Turning to look at the view outside the café-that-is-now-a-restaurant, seeing the flow of motorbikes and cars rolling with the wind, I suddenly feel like crying.

And if a 25-year-old who is still fairly innocent can feel that much sadness from simply watching the changing scenery, I wonder how lonely, how desolate Monsieur Modiano would feel at his age. After a half of century, sitting by the same window at the same café, watching everything that defines him as a person slowly burns away. Avenue by avenue. Store by store. Piece by piece.

Though knowing that living is a torture in and of itself, and that we have no other choice but to persist and find some sort of meaning in that torture, I can’t help but feeling a strange sense of relief. There’s no better place than here. There’s no better time to be alive than now. And being alive, being able to feel life running through you, is a miracle.

That miracle is presented in a few simple words and the dream of a lost Paris in Monsieur Modiano’s “Sleep of Memory.”

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