Title: So you don’t get lost in the neighborhood
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translated by: Euan Cameron
So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood is an exploration of memories, the way they are fragile and unreliable at the same time. It is the story of an ageing novelist, who has turned a recluse and who is forced to confront his past through a series of curious coincidences.
The unreliable nature of human memory made me think of the other masterpiece on memory, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
Patrick Modiano was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2014. He was relatively unknown outside France, so many of his works were translated to English. It is a wonder to read his books and after this novella, I cannot wait to read Pedigree: A Memoir, that throws light on his early and intriguing life.
This book itself seems autobiographical in places.
Jean Daragane, lives a life of seclusion in his Parisian flat. One day, a person named Giles Ottolini, along with his associate Chantal Grippay, contacts him. He is investigating a crime and Jean had mentioned one of the persons involved, in a book that he wrote years ago. At the outset, Jean denies knowing anything at all about this character in his book, but as he looks at the evidence collected, the photos and the news items, he peels back the layers of his own consciousness and unravels the painful memories of his childhood that he had been able to suppress through deliberate forgetfulness.
This novella is rambling at times; it becomes difficult to understand where the story is at now, the present, the recent past or the distant past. This, I understood later, was an effect deliberately put in.
The mood is melancholic and dreamy and like Jean, you don’t know if things are happening in reality or in a dream. By the end, you wonder if Giles Ottolini and Chantal Grippay are also figments of his imagination, for they disappear after setting into motion the recollections.
It is also wonderful to look into the mind of an author and learn how books are written. Sometimes it is a chance meeting that triggers a chain of memories that are recorded through writing. We learn how little autobiographical incidents are put in, for the sake of calling out to the people who have stepped away.
The ending is a slight disappointment because the mystery of Annie and the past events remains unresolved. You understand that it is the journey that is the story.
The book is also the exploration of the city of Paris and like any other place, Paris changes beyond recognition over the years so that the author wonders if it were all his imagination.
Reading the book is like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and discovering the vulnerability of childhood and the poignance of old age.
Excellent; Must read.