French novelist Patrick Modiano poses for a photograph. Patrick Modiano of France has won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature.
AP—AP/Gallimard
By Lily Rothman
October 9, 2014

Patrick Modiano is probably feeling pretty good right now. It was announced Thursday morning that the French author had beat out bet-makers’ favorites like Haruki Murakami to become the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

But that warm, fuzzy feeling may not last. As TIME reported back in 1998, the Nobel for literature has a mixed reputation — one that some would go so far as to call a curse. Even for those writers who receive the prize while still at the height of their careers, the burst of worldwide fame that it brings can actually contribute to a decrease in artistic output. As TIME explained:

Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, who won the prize in 1992, recalls a […] burst of joy followed by a prolonged state of siege. “The phone rang endlessly, and a lot of invitations came. It was a really terrible time, not terrible in a bad sense but terrible in how exacting it is. For a while you can’t work, because it’s so demanding.” What Walcott characterizes as the Nobel’s less than phenomenal influence on his book sales didn’t make up for the chaotic fuss. What did soothe him, however, was the prize money, as he frankly and cheerfully admits. “It was almost a million dollars,” he recalls. “What I’m really grateful for is the fact that I could build a very nice house in a very nice little bay in St. Lucia with a studio.”

Once labeled a potential “kiss of death” by novelist Saul Bellow, after he won the prize in 1976, the Nobel can be a bittersweet distinction. For William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, the prize was a swan song, a tribute to past masterpieces whose greatness their subsequent work did not approach. For others, it’s just a very prestigious distraction. Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, the 1996 laureate, complained that the prize destroyed her cherished privacy by turning her into an “official person.” According to Jonathan Galassi, editor in chief of Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Gordimer’s and Walcott’s publisher), the prize can “inundate” a writer. “People,” he says, “want a piece of your ass even more than they did before.”

But as for Modiano, he may have an edge when it comes to avoiding the curse. The BBC reports that the author has lots of practice staying away from the press and others who want a piece of his time and privacy — in fact, he’s so good at it that the Nobel Academy was unable to get the good news to him before the rest of the world found out too.

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