cover image Sleep of Memory

Sleep of Memory

Patrick Modiano, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Yale Univ., $24 (136p) ISBN 978-0-300-23830-3

A classic Modiano novel from its very first scene, which opens on the quays of the Seine in a bookseller’s stall, the Nobel winner’s latest is a startlingly beautiful excavation of his classic themes. A writer in his 70s looks back—and fixates—on a few small scenes from his life, noirish minutiae that haunt and captivate him 50 years after the fact. As a young man left largely directionless after years of boarding school and neglect from his selfish and itinerant parents, the narrator meets several women who change the course of his interior life. Among them are Geneviève Dalame, a charming woman from an equally complicated family; Madeleine Péraud, a mystic who hosts him in her lavish apartment to discuss their shared fascination with the occult; and Martine Hayward, a friend who has committed a violent crime and needs someone with whom she can disappear for a while. The narrator is good at disappearing, flitting in and out of people’s lives, as are each of these women, and after five decades, he still cannot shake the impressions of small moments with each of them, the simultaneous intensity and commonplace-ness of running into one of them on the street. Modiano sharply chronicles the intricate geographies of Paris, and the intimacies and legacies of fleeting scenes that happen within it: “Many paths led away from that crossing, and I had neglected one, perhaps the best of all.... Paris is studded with nerve centers and the many forms our lives might have taken.” For fans and newcomers alike, this is Modiano at his very best. (Oct.)