Lazy days in the sunshine. The sand in the clocks seems to hold up the whole drive. Doesn't time stand still at all? The hours drag on. The sun shines brightly. It's best lived by the water: "Then we went down to this beach looking for a tiny little space where we could stretch out on our towels. We've never been happier than in these moments, lost in the suntan lotion-scented crowd. The children around us built sandcastles and the hawkers did gymnastics and offered ice cream. We were like everyone, nothing made us different from the others on those Sundays in August.”
This is how a classic of recent French literature ends. "Sundays in August" was published in 1986, at a time when its author Patrick Modiano was still a long way from winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he then received in 2014.
But he had already found his style and with it the theme of his life: the search for a lost time, which - unlike Marcel Proust - is not a nostalgically glorified world of yesterday, but a fragile, uncertain one; populated by people who suddenly disappear, but if you're lucky, reappear in later years, even if they are sometimes just ghosts, revenants of their own memories.
There is also such a plot in "Sundays in August": Sylvia, once the lover of the first-person narrator, was suddenly gone. She had left her husband for her lover, not without stealing a valuable diamond from him, the sale of which was supposed to finance her new life alongside the photographer, who was quite penniless at the time.
But the sale didn't go through, Sylvia was kidnapped, and the first-person narrator only has memories of those days in August when he and Sylvia were still optimistic about the future because he could feel safe from anyone on summer Sundays with their ritualized routine Re-enactment, become part of that indiscriminately dozing crowd that August makes of us all.
Yes, the month of August is not only the great leveler in France, where it sends the whole country on vacation at the same time, which then ends for everyone on the 31st of the month. It also allows us Germans to become a united nation of brothers and sisters, at least climatically: we all sweat the same, united in our search for cooling off, for refreshing sleep and for those joys that vacations by the sea in particular have in store for us, just like as described by Patrick Modiano in the quoted sentences.
So let's throw ourselves into the waves, let's enjoy their lulling, always constant rhythm, the dissolution of the tightly timed structures of our everyday lives. The days with the clear edges and contours will return. And the lost Sylvias and all the other more or less loved ones then inevitably appear again.