Evocative and perfectly written—trademark Modiano, in other words.

A short, pensive novel of bohemian Paris just after the war, Nobel Prize winner Modiano’s (Missing Person, 2015, etc.) favorite time and place.

“She had known right from the outset that things would turn out badly for us.” With names like Tarzan, Fred, and La Houpa, it’s no wonder the young, disaffected patrons of the Condé—collectively known as “the lost Youth,” and some of them true juvenile delinquents plunged unwillingly into early adulthood—are at a dead end. The war is over, the Nazis are gone, and meaning has been drained from life. Ah, but there’s always Louki to provide the lookie-loo itch for everyone to scratch, young and elegant and very quiet. Who is she, and why is she with “the brown-haired guy in the suede jacket”? So, at the formative stages of a minor obsession, ponders our initial narrator, whose point of view is just one of several. One might as well ask who anyone is, for, as that narrator reveals, everyone at the Condé lives in the present, no one talks about the past, and the smarter of the patrons are bound up in endless discussions concerning “pataphysics, lettrism, automatic writing, metagraphics,” and other such heady matters. Louki’s identity, always hazy, takes clearer form as the slender narrative progresses—and as it does, some of the entanglements become a little more dangerous, and to downright tragic effect in at least one case. Much of the novel is based on the informal circle run by the now canonical philosopher Guy Debord, whose double in this novel is himself obsessed by the escapist novel Lost Horizons. Modiano touches on themes of intellectual despair and ennui without ever quite slipping into Camus-ian bleakness, but more, he writes of memory, impression, and our cursed inability to know, truly know, what reality is, to say nothing of the person across the table from us.

Evocative and perfectly written—trademark Modiano, in other words.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59017-953-6

Page Count: 124

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016


Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014


The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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