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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lost youth, lost time, missing persons - Modiano's most conventional novel?

Patrick Modiano's In the Cafe of Lost Youth, 2007?, isn't by any stretch a conventional (short) novel but it's about as close as Modiano ever gets to conventional narrative; I've read the first 3 chapters or sections - 2 more to go I think - and the structure is quite simple: In each a different first-person narrator tells what is roughly the same story. Begins with an account by someone who seems much like Modiano himself, a left-bank student, hanging around the cafe, actual name = Conde (i.e., The Count), with a number of leftist, intellectuals, poseurs, and wanna-be's - they become fascinated by an attractive 20=something woman who goes there and drinks alone, and she is gradually drawn into their orbit, they name her Louki, none is sure of her real name nor of any salient facts about her life - she claims to be a grad student in Asian languages, and she's reading a copy of Lost Horizons and has some mystical ideas. One in the crowd keeps detailed notes about whom they drink w/ every night; a man who claims to be a publisher borrows the notes for one night - and it seems he's interested in learning more about Louki; they suspect it's perhaps for a photo project. Second section tells story from that man's POV, and he is, as we might expect from many other noirish Modiano novels, a private detective hired by "Louki's" husband to find her - we get a very sorrowful scene in which her conventional and somewhat older husband recounts his abandonment. The detective learns her name, of course - Jacqueline - and tells the husband he has no trace of her. 3rd section is hers, and she recounts her nights in an apartment in Pigalle and her wandering the streets while her mother worked in Moulin Rouge, picked up by police a few times for juvenile vagrancy. Each of these sections is pretty clear in itself - but what is the novel about?, that's the mystery. We again see Modiano themes of abandonment by parents, flight, the search for a "missing person," the search for "lost time," though not in the Proustian sense - more a detective's search, following clues, although there is some talk of how sensory experiences, a scent in particular, can bring up a near-lost memory - all, in my view, tied in to his thoughts about the obliteration of the Occupation from French memory - and also his familiar settings - dingy Paris nightclubs and bars, Parisian neighborhoods far from the tourist sites.

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