The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (In the Café of Lost Youth). While there are similarities with his other novels, this is unusually narrated by four different narrators, including the usual Modiano-like naive wannabe writer, but also the inevitable mysterious woman and two other characters. All the characters meet at the café Condé, including real-life writers as well as other literati. Louki, the mysterious woman, joins them but never seems fully integrated into the group, though she does have an affair with Roland, one of the narrators. We follow Roland, who becomes Louki’s boyfriend and believes in the idea of the eternal return and what he calls neutral zones in cities, Louki’s troubled life and the theory of how we all need fixed points to cope with the maelstrom of the city. Of course, it all ends miserably as people die, disappear and move on but it is till one of Modiano’s best.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Du plus loin de l’oubli (Out of the Dark ). This follows the standard Modiano format. A young, footloose young man, at a loose end, falls for an attractive woman, Jacqueline, in Paris. She persuades him to help her steal some money from a dubious character and the pair flee to London. There they meet the very real Peter Rachman, notorious in the 1950s-1960s as the archetypical slum landlord, who helps them. However, while our narrator is writing a novel, based on Rachman, Jacqueline is often out with Rachman, a famed womaniser. Fifteen years later, in Paris, having lost touch with Jacqueline, he sees her again entering a block of flats. He follows her. It is another fine novel from Modiano, though, as usual, we are not always entirely sure what is going on.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Un cirque passe (After the Circus).
This novel will be familiar territory to those who have read other Modiano novels. It tells of a naive young man in Paris, whose father has to suddenly leave the country, presumably for legal reasons, who meets a woman (four years older than him). He is smitten and the couple travel round Paris in a borrowed car. She involves him with her decidedly dubious friends but agrees to accompany him to Rome where he has the possibility of a job. But who is she really and why are the police interested in her and who are her mysterious friends? We learn well before the end that it is not going to work out with her but we are left as much in the dark as our hero is.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Remise de peine (Suspended Sentences). This short novel deals with Modiano’s usual themes, telling the story of two young boys, the older clearly based on Modiano himself, who are sent to stay with three women on the outskirts of Paris, while their parents are away travelling. It soon becomes apparent (to us, if not the boys) that the various visitors to the women are up to no good, though the boys enjoy their company and, for example, the ride in the US car, listening to Edith Piaf on the radio. The boys are eventually taken along for the ride when the women visit Paris and the narrator, as an older man, will try to reconstruct where they went. It is all going to end badly and it does but Modiano has kept us involved in the story all the way.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Quartier perdu (A Trace of Malice). This has several of Modiano’s favourite themes – looking for the past, finding Paris has changed a lot, a hero who has two personalities – his present and his past one and some murky secret which will gradually come out. Jean Dekker has been living in England under the name Ambrose Guise, where he is a successful detective story writer but now visits Paris for the first time in nearly twenty years. There he tries to reconnect with his past – many of the people are dead – and investigate events of twenty years ago which led to his departure from France. The book was published in English by a publisher who is long since defunct so the book is difficult to obtain in translation.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Dora Bruder(Dora Bruder; The Search Warrant: Dora Bruder). Our narrator (presumably Modiano himself) comes across a 1941 newspaper announcement about a missing fifteen-year old girl, Dora Bruder. Over the course of the next few years, he decides to track her down, as far as he can. He finds out some details about her and her origins. Her parents were immigrant Jews. She was headstrong and clearly ran away from the Catholic convent school to which she had been sent. Some of the information he speculates about, based on the situation. Dora Bruder is just one girl among many who disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France but Modiano here is showing how she represents the other Jews arrested and murdered simply because they were Jews.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Rue des Boutiques obscures (Missing Person). It tells the story of Guy Roland, a man living in the 1960s who has no idea who he is. He has been working as the assistant for a private detective who has now retired. As a result, Roland concentrates on finding out who he is. He tracks down various people, sees photos, visits buildings and even goes to the Pacific to see if he can find any clues. He learns of various people whom he may have been associated with but some have died, others disappeared. He finds some connections. e.g. with fleeing France during World War II, but, as the title (a French translation of the Via delle Botteghe Oscure in Rome) tells us. Italy may or may not be key.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Villa Triste (Villa Triste). Set primarily in 1960, in a town near the Franco-Swiss border which seems to be Annecy, it follows the story of an eighteen-year old man who might be called Victor Chmara (but might not) who has fled Paris, possibly to escape the Algerian War. He seems to have no employment and does very little during the book. He meets Yvonne Jacquet, a would-be film star, and they get together under the watchful eyes of a mysterious doctor, René Meinthe. Nobody is who they seem and everyone seems to have something to hide and little is revealed, even when Victor returns twelve-thirteen years later.
The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Burdeos (Bordeaux). The novel tells three stories, with several of the characters appearing in two or all three stories. The first two are set in Bordeaux, with the third set in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The characters are nearly all all well-to-do bourgeoisie. The main theme of the stories is that marriage/close relationships are not a good thing, particularly for women, with the men being controlling, patronising or simply taking their wives for granted. Despite this, the solitary life, which several of the characters lead, is not really a good thing either. In the third story, Elizabeth Parker gives some advice, namely marry anyone as long as they love you. Perhaps this is the message Puértolas wishes to share.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Les Hauts-Quartiers [The Upper Districts]. This novel was published seventeen years after Gadenne’s death and has not been translated into any other language. It is long (800 pages) and rambling. It tells the story of Didier Aubert, a young man clearly based on the author. We start with Dunkirk, as Didier and his mother flee the advancing Germans and escape to South-West France. Like Gadenne, Didier suffers from tuberculosis and like Gadenne is an ascetic intellectual. Didier struggles with finding suitable accommodation, struggles in his relationships and struggles with the bourgeoisie (whom Gadenne continually mocks), those who live in the Hauts-Quartiers, the posh part of town. He really wants peace and quiet for his studies but that is just not possible, as life gets in the way. It is considered by many critics to be a classic of twentieth-century French literature but perhaps needed a good editor.