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Patrick Modiano: Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood)

Jean Daragane is a writer or, rather, it seems he was one. Indeed, he barely seems able to remember his work. He loses his address book on the train but is not too concerned as he is no longer in contact with most of the people in it and can remember the addresses and phone numbers of the few people he is still in touch with. One day, he gets a phone call. Someone has found his address book. (He had put his name and phone number on the book.)

They arrange to meet in a café and the finder, Gilles Ottolini, turns up, accompanied by the usual mysterious Modiano woman, Chantal Grippay. It turns out that Ottolini had looked through the book and wanted to know more about one of the people in it, Guy Torstel. Daragane has no recollection of Torstel though Ottolini reminds him that a character of that name appeared in one of his books.

Of course, we know from previous Modiano novels, that this is going to get quite messy. We know it is likely to involve his parents, his past, the mysterious woman changing her name and her address, Paris, past and future, some decidedly dubious characters who are up to no good and, in this case, a serious crime. All of this happens. We actually get two mysterious women, Chantal, from the present time and Annie from the past though, to make things more complicated, there is also a Chantal from his past who pops up but plays only a very minor role.

Despite himself, Daragane gets caught up in some mysterious activity and, inevitably, does not always know who is telling the truth and who is not. He himself has forgotten much about his past (including his mother – he does not even know if she is still alive). He is looking for a quiet life, though he does not seem to have a source of income, is living in someone else’s flat and no longer seems to have any occupation. As in other Modiano books, the main characters seem to make much of their income from gambling and change residences frequently.

Almost despite himself, Daragane finds that he is getting involved in this search for the past which, as we soon discover, rapidly becomes, at least in part, the search for his past. Why was he living with Annie Astrand and, indeed, who was she? Did she really spend some time in prison and, if so, why? Why did she try and take him to another country, using a false passport? Where is she now? And where were his parents in all this? What is the role of Grippay and Ottolini?

As is usual with Modiano, we have three time frames. The first, which in this book is the present, is 2012. We also have a much further past, over forty years ago and then an intermediate one, some twenty years ago. It seems that part of his briefly caught up with him twenty years previously, as is not uncommon in Modiano’s books.

Despite the present being 2012, with the the occasional appearance of mobile phones and computers, it still, like his other works, very much has the flavour of the past, with small flats with only cold water, mysterious houses, hidden away, and Paris oddly almost deserted.

Like his other books, it works by creating this aura of mystery, with everything not being really resolved and the reader left not entirely sure what happened or why.

Publishing history

First published 2014 by Gallimard
First published in English by MacLehose Press in 2015
Translator: Euan Cameron