cover image Paris Nocturne

Paris Nocturne

Patrick Modiano, trans. from the French by Phoebe Weston-Evans. Yale Univ., $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-300-21588-5

Modiano was little known on the world stage until he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. This novel provides a superb and—at 160 pages—accessible entry to his writings. Its themes of memory and loss are emblematic of Modiano’s oeuvre. The story begins “late at night, a long time ago” when, as a teenager, the narrator gets hit by a car driven by a mysterious woman, Jacqueline Beausergent, in a fur coat. She squeezes his wrist in the police van before the narrator succumbs to ether, administered by medical personnel. When he awakes, in a strange clinic, Jacqueline has vanished and the narrator is met by a large man whom he recalled hovering by the scene of the accident. The man hands him an envelope of cash, and when the narrator inquires about who Jacqueline is, he’s told coldly that “as far as [the man] was concerned the ‘case was closed.’ ” The narrator’s search for Jacqueline propels the novel forward with the intensity of a noir. But Modiano is not writing mere pulp; the novel’s true center is the past’s pull, the way memories lay dormant for years only to explode “like a time bomb.” The Proustian smell of ether, recollections of a father, passing through neighborhoods in Paris, even a stray dog—in Modiano’s hands, the fog of the past lingers on all the artifacts of daily life. (Oct.)