YOUNG ONCE by Patrick Modiano


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Modiano’s transitional novel, first published in 1981, that marked an end to literary experimentation in favor of his largely unadorned though deeply atmospheric style.

Modiano’s novel opens on an uncharacteristically idyllic note, although, as with his other work, it immediately turns in search of a moment of lost time. Odile and Louis are just about to turn 35, and now, as she gazes out at her children playing on the alpine lakefront lawn, Odile is feeling the pangs of fading youth. “Does life ever start over at thirty-five?” she wonders. “She had the feeling that the answer was No. You reach a zone of total calm and the pedal-boat glides all by itself across a lake like the one stretching out before her.” Rewind 15-odd years, to the end of the war, and Odile and Louis, still teenagers, are innocents caught up in a much different world and a much different demimonde. Fresh out of the army, Louis meets a shadowy fellow, Brossier, who wears a feather-festooned Tyrolean hat, perhaps not the best of disguises, and says he’s in the car business. Just what it is that he does isn’t ever quite clear, but he enlists Louis in the enterprise and fills his pockets with money, even as Odile is struggling to make it as a chanteuse in a world that still has Edith Piaf. Brossier has big plans for Louis, though always of a vague sort, and shifting duties: “Now, when I say ‘night watchman,’ ” he says of one job possibility, “in fact it’s more of a job as a…secretary….” Only gradually does Louis become uneasy about the ill-defined nature of his duties as compared to his large pay packet, but he's too much the naif to recognize what the knowing reader will—namely, that a postcard bearing Guy Burgess’ signature puts us into different territory altogether, lending Modiano’s matter-of-fact mood study a dangerous dimension.

Quiet but powerful; fans of Modiano’s smoky, humid postwar world will enjoy this slowly unfolding mystery.

Pub Date: March 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-59017-955-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: New York Review Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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