C'est un drôle de livre! The book commences with an apparently solidly bourgeois couple, 35 years old, with two children playing outside their chalet in the French Alps. Then it returns 15 years to show the beginnings of this couple and their apparent happiness - no, these beginnings are anything other than what one would expect from the stereotype. At the age of 19 they both have nothing at all - no education, no possessions, no particular talents - and they are remarkably passive and unreflective (until the very last page of the book). Each is taken in hand by a middle-aged man (for no apparent reason) and guided towards an occupation. They meet each other, fall in love and are henceforth inseparable. The process of falling in love is completely elided in the book; it takes place during a two week span when they nearly starve to death because the young man has omitted to ask his mentor for some more money. (!) These two weeks are alluded to in a single brief paragraph, nothing more. But the reader is told in great detail what certain characters are wearing and which drinks certain other characters are consuming. (!) Not only are Modiano's decisions about which information to communicate and which to withhold very curious, nearly every event in the book is narrated in precisely the same voice and language; only an attempted rape receives a description in a tone which is a bit more tendu. But, as an example, the two times the young woman submits to the sexual advances of a predatory record producer are recorded with the same detached voice as the detailed recounting of the furniture in rooms in which very nearly nothing of significance happens. In other words, almost the entire book is written in the same relatively flat language. When I read literature, I hope for something more.
I'm really not sure what to make of this book. Yes, there do indeed exist such passive, non-selfreflective people; yes, the nearly random way events occur and people move in and out of the lives of the young couple reflects life itself; yes, perhaps the voice and information choices made by the author are meant to reflect the, to me, strange character of the young couple - after all, the reader is only allowed to glimpse the thoughts of the young couple and no other characters. But, in that case, the protagonists would be autistic! On the other hand, I rather doubt that these authorial choices are the result of some tedious meta-fictional considerations... And the "surprise" at the end? Much too late. There is precious little of interest in this book, and that's not typical of my experience with Modiano's writings. Two stars and no entrance into my permanent library. Sorry, Patrick.