This is the second book by Modiano I’ve read, and I liked this one more than The Black Notebook, though maybe I’m just more in the mood for this kind of atmospheric novel at the moment. The themes (and plots) of the two books are similar, and I get the impression this Modiano’s thing: a mystery that is as much about the larger mysteries of life (the workings of memory, the passage of time, how a near-stranger can take on importance to someone, how different periods blur together or are subsumed or changed, in our minds, by subsequent periods or events) as about the specifics of the plot (in this case: a man who briefly worked at a detective agency reflects on the case of a missing woman). As with The Black Notebook, I feel like I would have loved this book even more if I had a better knowledge of Paris and its different neighborhoods, but even so I enjoyed the descriptions of the streets and cafés and the ways places change (“They had knocked down the buildings facing the river and, in their place, all that remained were empty lots and heaps of rubble. It was as if there had been a bombardment on this no-man’s-land that they would later baptize the Front de Seine. And it hadn’t spared the first building on the quay after the bridge, of which all that remained was the concrete façade.”)

At the start of the book, our narrator notes that “There are blanks in this life, white spaces you can detect.” These blanks are literal in the mostly-empty datebook he finds, a datebook that belonged to Noëlle Lefebvre, the woman who’s gone missing, the woman his employer has tasked him with investigating. There are blanks in narratives, too: blanks in what someone tells you or doesn’t, and maybe blanks in what someone remembers. Jean Eyben, the former detective who narrates most of the book, thinks about how “present and past blend together in a kind of transparency.” Time can be compressed by perspective: I love this description of Noëlle’s time in Paris: “That stay, which had lasted only a few months, had gradually faded from her memory. The few months had become a few hours, as if she had spent them in a waiting room between two trains.”

I’m curious to read more by Modiano, and might eventually try to read something by him in the original French.

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