So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano


Reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

The workings of the mind are mysterious and our memory isn’t always very reliable, especially about childhood. Some people recall their early years vividly and in great detail, while others seem to remember hardly anything. Moreover, the bits and pieces that have lasted in our minds for many years often turn out to be shockingly incomplete, blurred or even alienated past the recognition of others who were present too. Some memories are so painful that they are downright repressed: access denied until… This is the experience that an ageing novelist makes in So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2014. When a man steps into his life to return his lost address book, he rouses the ghosts of childhood asking after a person whose long outdated number is in it. 

Patrick Modiano was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, in July 1945. His mother being an actress often on tour, he passed his early years in the care of his maternal grandparents who brought him up speaking Flemsh. Soon after high school he turned to writing and published his first work, an article for the magazine Le Crapouillot, in 1966. The following year he made his debut as a novelist with La Place de l'Étoile which earned him national as well as international awards. A great number of novels followed, most notable among them Ring Roads (Les Boulevards de ceinture: 1972), Missing Person (Rue des Boutiques obscures: 1978), Dora Bruder (1997; also translated as The Search Warrant: Dora Bruder), Pedigree (Un pedigree: 2005), and In the Café of Lost Youth (Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue: 2007). In 2014 Patrick Modiano was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation”. The author’s latest published work is So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood (Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier: 2014). Patrick Modiano lives in Paris, France.

A phone call that the ageing novelist Jean Daragane receives in his apartment in Paris on an unusually hot afternoon in September opens the story of So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood. The man on the phone found the writer’s address book and offers to take it directly to him since he is nearby, but there’s something in the man’s voice that makes Daragane feel uncomfortable about him. Nonetheless he agrees to meet him in a café the next day. The obscure stranger in his forties arrives in the company of an enigmatic  woman dressed all in black and introduces himself as Gilles Ottolini. After handing the address book to Daragane he asks him about a person whose name and phone number he found in it, a certain Guy Torstel. The name doesn’t ring a bell with the author, though. Only then Ottolini reveals that he is gathering information about an old affair from the local news in which Guy Torstel was somehow involved and about which he wants to write an article. Daragane can’t help him. Already the next morning Ottolini calls the author again, asks him to meet him after his return from a business trip and reminds him that he used the name Guy Torstel in his first novel. It’s no use. He doesn’t remember the man. Later the same day Daragane receives another phone call, this time from Ottolini’s friend who asks him to come to her apartment. She gives him the material that her friend compiled doing research for a book which he hopes Daragane will help him to write. Reading the file, Daragane is pushed back into his own childhood in the early 1950s and gradually he realises that something happened to him at the time that he needs to remember…

In his third-person novella So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood the author uses his own tragic experience of having had a mother who was mostly absent and left him in the care of others to create an entirely credible protagonist who passed almost his whole life pushing away his past. When Gilles Ottoloni appears, Jean Daragane has reached a state of complete emotional detachment from everything – his childhood, his books, human relations, and life altogether. Like in reality something as unimportant as a long forgotten name in his address book suffices, though, to bring back the ghosts of his past and to urge him to investigate his own childhood almost as if it were that of a stranger. Through incoherent flashbacks, extracts from police files and the protagonist's own enquiries Patrick Modiano unveils gradually and with great skill the disturbing truth that made Daragane forget everything that was and without regret. However, retrieving his past doesn't make it any more real to him. I read the book in its original French version and found it easy to follow because the language is unpretentious, clear and precise. The slim volume is also a quick read. I enjoyed it immensely.

When I picked So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano, I wasn't quite sure if I would like it because the works of Nobel Prize laureates aren't necessarily very accessible or at least good quality reads. Besides, I had never heard of the author before October 2014. Luckily, I didn't allow my doubts to keep me from reading one of his books! It was a good experience and I'm sure that this novella won't remain his only work in my library. And it goes without saying that I highly recommend this one for reading.

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

Download July @ReadNobels Wallpaper featuring #ThomasMann's The Magic Mountain

  • Saturday, July 2, 2016


Cross-posted on Guiltless Reading.

Happy July! Calendar time! If this is the first time you're hearing about this, these calendar wallpapers are a fun monthly project I cooked up for myself and is a sneaky way of promoting the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. I select an author who has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, a book cover, and a quote.

About Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize in Literature in1929 "principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks*, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature"(NobelPrize.org).

This prolific German author attracted attention with this win because the Nobel is typically usually awarded for an entire body of work and not just one work. The novel Buddenbrooks,* published in 1901, is a family story inspired by Mann's own background as a north German merchant family.

He is known for his symbolic and ironic fictional works, which have insight into the artistic and intellectual psychology. He drew inspiration from German and Biblical stories, and the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

I am featuring his book The Magic Mountain*, a coming of age story, because I have had it on my TBR for a while now. It has so many quotable quotes that I feel it has much wisdom to impart. Here's a synopsis which I have no doubt will whet your appetite for more Mann:

In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.

Mann's other notable works include: Death in Venice*, Joseph and His Brothers and Doctor Faustus*.


Have you read any of Mann's work? 


More links about Thomas Mann:

Go ahead and download this month's wallpaper!


Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer! (Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

* Affiliate links


Author Photo: Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Past wallpapers:
Get some Nobel Prize winning literature in your reading lists! All it takes is one book for the entire year. Click to join the challenge RIGHT HERE!

Read the Nobels 2016

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Originally posted on Guiltless Reading.

Still lusty for life yet ruing lost youth.

A bad first impression

After a ten year hiatus, Marquez came back into the limelight with this extremely slim Lolita-esque novel. I am a huge fan Marquez already, so I came upon his book a few years ago, I had great expectations. My first read I immediately hated it. I couldn't get past the revulsion that this story basically glorified a "dirty old man" -- a 90-year-old man sleeping with an impoverished teenager under the banner of "love." I put the book aside in semi-disgust and couldn't process how one of my favourite authors could do this to his fans patiently waiting for his next great novel.

Redeeming qualities

Now that I'm purposely doing the Read the Nobels, I decided that this book deserved a second chance. Readers do not necessarily need to agree with a story, I reminded myself. I wanted to see if I could get a more positive takeaway. Borne out of a second chance, this review delves into what I did like about it.

Strip this down its bare bones and this is an ode to growing old, a reminiscence of youth lost, and coming to the inevitable realization of the fleeting nature of life. It is about falling in love again, both literally and figuratively, and reliving youth through someone young.

This is quite funny in places which pokes fun at the aches and pains that come with old age. Even with coarse language, naughty comments, and the discussions on sex, sexual appetites and urges, there is a charm to this voice that has shed its shyness of youth. It is matter-of-fact, no-holds-barred, and comfortable in one's own skin. There is no pretension and no need to cloak in the niceties or politeness -- and I love that about this book.

... but still not up to snuff

I gave this book the chance but honestly it cannot compare to the loftiness and grandeur that is 100 Years of Solitude or the complexity of Of Love and Other Demons. It's good reading but it is not the best of Marquez's work. I feel a little let down still but comfort myself in the fact that I still have many Marquez books still unread.


Synopsis of Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: On the eve of his ninetieth birthday a bachelor decides to give himself a wild night of love with a virgin. As is his habit--he has purchased hundreds of women--he asks a madam for her assistance. The fourteen-year-old girl who is procured for him is enchanting, but exhausted as she is from caring for siblings and her job sewing buttons, she can do little but sleep. Yet with sleeping beauty at his side, it is he who awakens to a romance he has never known.

Read the Nobels 2016
Find out more about Read the Nobels!

Download #free June @ReadNobels wallpaper featuring Elfriede Jelinek


{Cross posted on Guiltless Reading}

If it's the first time you're hearing about this, these calendar wallpapers are a fun monthly project I cooked up for myself and is a sneaky way of promoting the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. I select an author who has won the Nobel Prize Literature, a book cover, and a quote.

About Elfriede Jelinek

Elfreide Jelinek, 2004
Elfriede Jelinek, from Austria, won the Nobel Prize in Literature 2004 "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power"(NobelPrize.org).

I was quite drawn in by the fact that Jelinek is polarizing with her work which explores the themes of sexuality, sexual abuse, and powerplay of the sexes. One of her most popular works, Die Klavierspielerin (The Piano Teacher*), the featured book in this month's wallpaper, showcases this quite well. See the synopsis here:

The Piano Teacher* is a searing portrait of a woman bound between a repressive society and her darkest desires. Erika Kohut is a piano teacher at the prestigious and formal Vienna Conservatory, who still lives with her domineering and possessive mother. Her life appears boring, but Erika, a quiet thirty-eight-year-old, secretly visits Turkish peep shows at night and watched sadomasochistic films. Meanwhile, a handsome, self-absorbed, seventeen-year-old student has become enamored with Erika and sets out to seduce her. She resists him at first but then the dark passions roiling under the piano teacher s subdued exterior explode in a release of perversity, violence, and degradation."

The 2001 movie by Austrian director Michael Haneke, The Piano Teacher (movie), was based on Jelinek's book. It won numerous awards in the 2001 Cannes Film Festival including the Grand Prix, best actress and best actor.



I have not read any of Jelinek's work but am sufficiently intrigued based on this one book.

Would you consider reading Elfriede Jelinek?


More links about Elfriede Jelinek:

Go ahead and download this month's wallpaper!

Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer! (Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

* Affiliate links


Author photo: By The original uploader was Ghuengsberg at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Past wallpapers:


Get some Nobel Prize winning literature in your reading lists! All it takes is one book for the entire year. Click to join the challenge RIGHT HERE!

Read the Nobels 2016
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© Read the NobelsMaira Gall