In Young Once, we meet Louis and Odile, married with children, living comfortably in Switzerland but feeling vaguely lost. They are only thirty-five years old, yet it feels like they have nothing more to expect from life. “Could anything new happen to them at thirty-five?” One day, while downtown, Louis hears the voice of a singer on a television program drifting out from open café windows. He can’t understand the words. A warm wind starts blowing. The first drops of rain appear. And just like that we are taken back to Louis at the age of nineteen, just demobilized from the French army. Louis immediately falls in with a man who promises to get him a job in Paris. The job turns out to be sitting at a desk at nights in a garage where men deliver cars, leaving them for someone else to drive them away later. Louis never does get an explanation of what is going on, but we suspect something illicit. Louis first meets Odile in a train station and before long they begin to live together, although they fail to display much that can be considered tender or loving. They are two aimless souls who seem to prefer letting other people make decisions for them. At nineteen, the can’t envision the future. “Lying down, looking at the ceiling, [Louis] would think about the future, or in other words about nothing.” Read more
Posts from the ‘Patrick Modiano’ Category
After a gap of nine months or so, I returned to Patrick Modiano’s novels again. By sheer chance, I selected two books written six years apart that each involve a young man who is taken in and sheltered briefly by a couple: Honeymoon and Out of the Dark. In Honeymoon, first published in 1990, Jean B. is a Parisian documentary filmmaker who decides to disappear from the lives of his wife and his daughter and his wife’s lover. He fakes a trip to Brazil, hides out in Milan for a while, and then returns to Paris determined to live the remainder of his life in cheap hotels. In typical Modiano fashion, the narrator’s decision turns on an event that happened long ago. Eighteen years earlier, while in Milan, Jean had accidentally learned of the recent suicide of a Frenchwoman. Honeymoon is the story of the connection between Jean and the woman who committed suicide, whose name was Ingrid. Read more
I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop…
Published in French as Rue des Boutiques Obscures in 1978, Missing Person is a relatively early novel by Patrick Modiano, whose first book dates to 1968. Its narrator is a detective working for the Hutte Agency and we quickly learn that he himself is, in fact, the “missing person” of the title. “Hutte, as usual, sat at his massive desk, but with his coat on, so that there was really an air of departure about it. I sat opposite him, in the leather armchair we kept for clients.” Read more
I sat at a sidewalk table of one of the cafés facing the Charléty stadium. I constructed all the hypotheses concerning Philippe de Pacheco, whose face I didn’t even know. I took notes. Without fully realizing it, I began writing my first book. It was neither a vocation nor a particular gift that pushed me to write, but quite simply the enigma posed by a man I had no chance of finding again, and by all those questions that would never have an answer.
So writes the narrator of Flowers of Ruin (Fleurs de Ruine), the third and final novella in Patrick Modiano’s book Suspended Sentences. After all of the hoopla over his winning the Nobel Prize for literature, I was impatient to check him out for myself. So I headed over to the great Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City to see what was in stock. At the moment, Suspended Sentences was my only option, but it turned out to be a good introduction to Patrick Modiano. I read the book compulsively for the next few hours, sucked in by Modiano’s voice and pacing.