Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Black Notebook

Finished September 8
The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano, translated by Mark Polizzotti

This novel is set mostly in Paris, with the majority of the plot done as the narrator looks back at a time in his life fifty years earlier. Jean was a young man, fascinated by Baudelaire and his mistress Jeanne Duval. As he walked around Paris, taking notes on the buildings, parks and other surroundings, especially their histories, he at times stopped at the cafeteria of the Cité Universitaire. It is there he met Dannie, a young woman who he developed a relationship with. He also met others: two relatively closely: Paul Chastagnier, a man in his forties who told Jean things and seemed to want to draw him into a closer acquaintance; and Aghamouri, a Moroccan man; as well as others he knew and talked to but wasn't formally introduced to.
Some of these people warned him against others in cryptic ways, not spelling out exactly what he should be wary of. Some took him into their confidences in a way that implied they trusted him more. Jean was young, but cautious, and his closest relationship was with Dannie. He went many places with her, met her often and didn't ask too many questions when he felt she wouldn't be open to sharing.
He wrote many things in the black notebook he carried everywhere with him. Names, phone numbers, observations, quotations, and questions. And he found that others were asking questions too, as a police detective brought him in and asked him about these people he'd met. Looking back decades later, he tries to piece things together as he tried unsuccessfully then, hoping the new information he has recently been provided will bridge some of the gaps.
Modiano has won many awards for his writing, including the Prix Goncourt, the Grand Prix National des Lettres, and the Nobel Prize in literature. This was my first book by him and I found it intriguing.


  1. I've been collecting his books since the Nobel win; the premises always intrigue me, but I've yet to take the plunge!

    1. Oddly enough I recently subscribed to the NYRB and one of his other books was in my recent mail. It's in my purse now.