Patrick Modiano, a French historical novelist whose work is largely inspired by Paris under the Nazi occupation, won the Nobel Literature Prize today.
The Swedish Academy said it wanted to celebrate his “art of memory” in capturing the lives of ordinary people under the World War II occupation, from 1940 to 1944.
“This is someone who has written many books that echo off each other… that are about memory, identity and aspiration,” said Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the academy.
Patrick Modiano has been named the 111th winner of the Nobel prize for literature. The 69-year-old is the 15th French writer to win the prestigious prize; Modiano will receive the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million, 878,000 euros).
He will be presented with his award at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
Modiano is well known in France but something of an unknown quantity for even widely read people in other countries. His best known novel is probably Missing Person, which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978 and is about a detective who loses his memory and endeavours to find it.
“His best known work is called Missing Person. It’s the story about a detective who has lost his memory and his final case is finding out who he really is: he is tracing his own steps through history to find out who he is.”
He added: “They are small books, 130, 150 pages, which are always variations of the same theme – memory, loss, identity, seeking. Those are his important themes: memory, identity and time.”
Modiano’s win was not a total surprise, with Ladbrokes quoting odds of 10/1 for him earlier this week, fourth favourite behind the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o (7/2), the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (4/1) and the Belarussian journalist Svetlana Aleksijevitj.
The winner is chosen by an academy consisting of 18 prominent Swedish literary figures. This year 210 nominations were received, 36 of which were first timers. That became a 20-name longlist and then a five-name shortlist.
Modiano, who lives in Paris, is known to shun media, and rarely accords interviews. In 2012, he won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
Last year’s award went to the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro.