So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood
By Patrick Modiano
Translated by Euan Cameron
MacLehose Press, 2016
It begins with a phone call.
When Jean Daragane picks up, the fellow on the other end of the line tells him he has found his address book and wishes to return it. The two men agree to meet at an out-of- the-way cafe, which is where the stranger asks Daragane about a name in the address book, a name familiar to him, perhaps a mutual acquaintance. An apparently innocent question, but one which draws Daragane back into his fractured past and towards a search for the woman, Annie Astrand, who at one time was his fierce protector. He begins to pour over each precious memory, every fear-encrusted, obsessively sifted detail of his formative years…
There is an insistent note of anxiety and unease in Patrick Modiano’s fiendishly constructed novel. Daragane is a novelist too, a man who lives an isolated existence and has a wary relationship with the world, and you are confronted at the close with the question: when and how does being alone come to mean being safe? Further, at what point do you cherish being lost because it offers a sort of freedom?
You are uncertain of exactly where this novel is headed for a long while but it is not to a pleasant place. And the betrayal when it comes, as in life, is barely noticed. Like a moment when a vine gently slips out of your grasp and you fall, a fall seeming to last forever. Before, that is, you hit hard ground.
So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood is an enervating read but a rewarding one.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.