Review: After the Circus by Patrick Modiano

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After the Circus

An interrogation closes fewer questions but opens more of them. An underage boy, Lucien, finds himself following Gisèle outside a police room where both were questioned. And in ninety-six hours he loses most of what he gains, only to be left with an uncharted future and disarrayed hopes. Grabley, his father's 'oldest friend', and he are living off an apartment, while his mother is in Spain and father in Switzerland. He sells a fake Monticelli and some other possessions to Dell'Aversano to have more than seven-thousand francs, and earns two-thousand more while 'playing a joke' on a man he expects in breeches in a restaurant. The 'joke' has been assigned to him by Ansart, known to Gisèle - who knows or shares little about him or Jacques or Martine Gaul.

The transition of Lucien from a boy-friend, when in company of the familiar, to a brother, when confronted with gatekeepers, keeps the flickering romance of risk and runaways going on. The cheerfulness of escaping to Rome and working in a bookshop and possibly later on literature is a chance he wants to take with her, the car lent to her, and her Raymond - the black Labrador. But is it the Circensian past of hers, or the croupier's unsettling eyes of Samson's Guélin from the police department ("I'm calling on behalf of Mister Samson, who asked you some questions last Thursday. A young girl was called in just after you...The two of you met up later at the Soeil-d'Or café. You have spent the last four days together and she is living at your address...I'm calling to warn you..."), which make him want to peel away his past, his parents for the want of a quiet, unknown life in a faraway city where he once spent an eve of the new year's?

The recurrent themes of The Occupation, the 'familiar tu', a dog, memories of parents raising a child, and the plays of memory are suffused in low-toned passages about intimacy, mistrust, and reluctant belief. The focus of After the Circus, right from the beginning, is on Gisèle (or Suzanne Kraay), and is notably unlike Modiano's other works: fewer and weaker diversions; the night porter shouting, in fear and astonishment, at Lucien; the haltingly sudden and violent end without a trailing explanation; and less developed characters of Jacques, Pierre Ansart, and Martine. It is, not surprisingly, one of the most if not the most haunting of Modiano.

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