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”It does also happen that one evening, because of someone’s attentive gaze, you feel a need to communicate to him not your experience, but quite simply some of the various details connected by an invisible thread, a thread which is in danger of breaking and which is called the course of life.”

Jean B. is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe it is the right place at the right time. He chases the ghosts of lost explorers for a living so he is used to going to places much more uncomfortable than Milan in August. The shops have closed down. The hotel is barren of guests, but the staff is still talking about he Parisian woman who came to Milan in the heat of the summer and killed herself.

The world is still a small place despite the fact that it is teaming with more human beings every nanosecond. What are the chances that Jean would be in Milan the very August that Ingrid decides to kill herself, and to make it more improbable, book a room in the same hotel? He is supposed to be preparing to go to Rio de Janeiro to meet up with the film crew that will follow him as he reconstructs another missing explorer’s final trudging moments.

”The public had lost interest in the documentaries we were bringing back from the antipodes. All those journeys, those countries where they had monsoons, earthquakes, amoebas and virgin forests, had lost their charm for me. Had they ever had any?”

We are confronted with mysteries all the time. We hear stories about someone we knew or someone we met who died without anyone understanding why. People disappear and never reappear. When we hear these things, we usually shrug our shoulders or maybe shake our heads, and in the time that it takes to sip some wine, we have moved passed that unpleasantness and turned our mind to other more immediate concerns.

Not Jean.

He is a barnacle attached to the bottom of a rotting boat. His life is mildewed and stagnant, so maybe without ever articulating it or ever consciously accepting it, he has reached a point where he needs to be scraped off the rotting boat. The mystery of Ingrid’s suicide is a catalyst, or maybe the enigma of who she is has always been percolating in his mind. He blows off Rio de Janeiro and goes back to the beginning, back to where Ingrid lived with her husband Rigaud in Paris. Jean met her twice. The first time she was cool, crisp, and strange, but the second time she had become a paler version of herself, diminished by an epoch of life characterized by insecurities and growing fears.

“Then she lowered her arm and the gate closed behind her. That arm suddenly falling and the metallic clank of the gate shutting made me understand that from one moment to another one can lose heart.”

Jean lives in Paris with his wife Annette, but Paris is such a big place, and the area where he needs to research the final days of Rigaud and Ingrid is the poorer section of Paris, a place where he and Annette used to go when they had no money. He even stays in the same hotels, in a sense, reconstructing his life before he became trapped in capitalism. He avoids the areas of Paris where he runs the risk of running into people he knows.

The threads of his search are slender.

Patrick Modiano writes sparse, fascinating tales. I’ve now read and reviewed three of his books. They are cerebral stories with no action, no grand events, but usually based around a niggling of a thought, something not quite right that needs to be investigated further. The majority of readers will find points of comparison between the characters dilemmas and their own lives. It is almost impossible to read a Modiano without taking moments to contemplate your own state of being as the plot gently unspools before you.

Out of the Dark Out of the Dark Review

My favorite book by him so far is Missing Person Missing Person Review

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