Claustrophobic, moody, none-more-noir novel by French Nobel Prize winner Modiano (Suspended Sentences, 2014, etc.).
Phone calls don’t happen often in Jean Daragne’s world. He’s sealed himself off in a Paris apartment, shutters drawn always, but especially now during an unusually strong heat wave that “emphasized his loneliness.” Still, he goes out from time to time, losing his address book on one small excursion away from his study. Therein lies the rub, for now his phone is ringing, and on the other end is a voice insistently offering to return his contacts to him. But why does the caller want to know about a character who, we learn in painstakingly deliberate time, figures in a novel that Daragne wrote years earlier and had forgotten about? Indeed, Daragne has forgotten a great deal that Gilles Ottolini, small-time crook and erstwhile jockey, would like to remind him of, not least a murder that took place more than half a century earlier. Modiano writes tantalizingly, offering just a part of a detail here and another there, inviting the reader to participate in Daragne’s bewilderment (Why him? Why now?), the unfolding identities of the players (Is Ottolini a blackmailer? Is Chantal a femme fatale or a pawn? Just what is the relationship between Annie Astrand and the perhaps half-American Roger Vincent?), and the hallucinatory stroll into a past that constantly raises as many questions as it answers. Modiano blends elements of the procedural, the ghost story, and the existentialist novels of his youth to unpeel an extremely juicy onion at whose core, in the end, would seem to be a meditation on the nature of memory and storytelling alike: “Perhaps he had gathered together all these disparate elements in the hope that Daragne would react to one of them….”
Lyrical and portentous—and sometimes even “dreary and threatening,” as Daragne describes the voice at the other end of the line. Vintage Modiano, and a pleasure for fans of neonoir fiction.