16 July 2016

Patrick Modiano: La Petite Bijou (2001)

Patrick Modiano's La Petite Bijou is, it probably goes without saying, a kind of existential detective story, imbued with a somnambulistic ambiance, in which the nineteen-year-old female first-person narrator seems to drift through life, lost in the labyrinthine underground corridors of Châtelet, lost in a temporal confusion, not knowing how to distinguish truth from fiction. Her mother used to call her La Petite Bijou, 'The Little Jewel', but then she wasn't much of a mother to her, and her uncle Jean Borand, who used to look after her, may have been her father. But her mother died years ago in Morocco, or so she was told.

Until, that is, she sees a woman in a well-worn yellow coat she thinks is her mother, follows her to a phone booth, a café where she has a few kirs, follows her to her home, obsesses about her, but never actually comes into contact with her. Her mother's real name is Suzanne Cardère (she thinks), although she changed it to Countess Sonia Dauyé, which is not the same name on the door of her the woman's home: that is Boré. It becomes obvious that the identity of her resurrected mother is as nebulous as the thoughts of the protagonist, whose real name (again, she thinks) is Thérèse.

In a bookshop Thérèse meets a man called Moreau, well let's say Moreau-Badmaev, who doesn't do forenames, and there develops a platonic relationship in which she eventually comes to talk about herself, even about the scraps of memory of her past which she keeps in a box. Moreau-Badmaev works as a translator, translating many languages from radio programmes, although it's not known who he works for. Translation is understanding, clarifying things, as this novel often clarifies times of day, and gives exact addresses and telephone numbers: it's as if the book is making a definite stand against itself, against the uncertain nature of the plot.

Thérèse hasn't got her bac and just drifts from casual job to casual job, such as the one she has of child-minder to the Valadiers, parents whose names (forenames Michel and Véra) may well be false, who don't seem concerned for their unnamed child (a psychological projection of La Petite Bijou herself?), seem constantly on the move, never settled, and even ready to abandon their daughter.

And then there's the woman pharmacist who takes so much care of Thérèse, wants to take her away for a few days to take her out of herself, and again seems (like Moreau-Badmaev) to be doing this for no motive other than altruism. And she gives Thérèse some tablets, with which she (intentionally or as if in a haze?) takes an overdose.

My other posts on Patrick Modiano:


Patrick Modiano: Rue des boutiques obscures | Missing Person
Patrick Modiano: Les Boulevards de ceinture | Ring Roads
Patrick Modiano: L'Horizon

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