Review: Paris Nocturne by Patrick Modiano

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Paris Nocturne

Modiano said about his novels that he felt he has been writing the same book for ever. This was my fourth novella of him and a clear pattern has emerged. Named streets and pavements of Paris or French countryside, the present merging with the past and the past spilling over to the present, characters who are mysterious in the least and ever guilty of something, a stray dog, memories of his father or brother, and the presence of night time in the setting of the events.

An almost-twenty-one year old boy gets hit by a car while attempting to cross the road near Place des Pyramides. The lady driver is taken along with him in a police-van to a hospital. His injuries seem to be not very serious but grave enough to have him administered ether. A huge man appears and hangs around the hospital, and gives him a wad of cash when the boy is being discharged. He starts his life again but is now haunted by the mysteries of Jacqueline Beausergent, the lady driver, and the man, who is later given the title of a choirboy by a restaurant owner.

The boy's search for the car, the sea-green fiat, brings back memories of his childhood and his father sending him away to the police. He searches the directories but it turns up nothing. His time spent in hotel rooms with his girl-friend are not too distant in his desperation to unearth the hidden. The appearance of a professor thickens the plot - his lectures, his students, his cafe-centered meetings add credence to the thought of something meshing up together like a pinion to a gear to help him. But it is only his unsettling eagerness which leads him to Beausergent in a late-night restaurant all by herself. She is surprised to see him but not startled or upset. His renderings of his efforts to reach her or her car or the huge man are struck down as wasted by her as she points that things are much simpler than he thinks.

He seems to have solved the mystery of who she was, but then disappears in the night near the aquarium wondering who Solière (actually Morawski), the huge man, was and what businesses did he have. "It was a comfort to make plans. She had taken my arm and I imagined all the multicoloured fish, close to us, circling behind the glass in the darkness and silence. My leg was painful and I limped slightly. But she, too, had the graze on her forehead. I wondered towards what future we were headed. I had the impression that we had already walked together in the same place, at the same time of day, in another time. Walking along these pathways, I no longer really knew where I was. We were almost at the top of the hill. Above us, the dark mass of one of the wings of the Palais de Chaillot. Or, rather, a big hotel in a winter sports station in Engadin. I had never breathed such cold, soft air. It penetrated my lungs with velvet freshness. Yes, we must have been in the mountains, at high altitude".

Paris Nocturne doesn't have the charm of Flowers of Ruin , but is still a classic Modiano noir.

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