Rue des Boutiques Obscures – Modiano
Author: Patrick Modiano (1945)
Title: Rue des Boutiques Obscures
Cover: Via delle Botteghe Oscure (Rome)
Dedication: Pour Rudy (brother died leukemia); Pour mon père
Theme: memory, identity, WWII
Table of contents: 47 chapters, 251 pages
Trivia: Awarded the Prix Goncourt 1978 and Nobel Prize for Literature 2014.
- Guy Roland – retired detective; decides to search for his identity. He suffers from memory lost due to damage that was caused by an accident at 15 yrs.
- Jimmy Pedro Stern (aka Pedro McEvoy) – Greek-Jew;
diplomat for Rep. Dominica TRIVIA: McEvoy was the name of a good friend of Modiano’s father
- Denise Coudreuse – French fashion model TRIVIA: Denise name of Modiano’s first love
- Freddie Howard de Luz – Englishman from Mauritius; lives with Denise
- Gay Orlow – young Russian girl, now American dancer
- André Wildmer (aka Dédé Wildmer) – English former horse jockey
The characters travel to the village of Megève to flee the German Occupation of Paris.
Mègeve was established in the 1920s as a French alternative to Saint-Moritz.
Pedro and Denise decide to flee to Switzerland.
They pay a smuggler but he abandons them in the snowy mountains.
Having partially recovered his memory, Guy Roland goes to look for Freddie.
Guy travels to Bora-Bora.
Unfortunately his old friend has just died in a boating accident (suicide?)
The only connection left to Guy’s past is an address in Rome from 1930:
2, rue des Boutiques Obscures.
French language is simple, easy to follow.
I wanted to experience this book at another level: visually.
Before reading each chapter I tracked down all the streets, oriented myself in that part of Paris (or elsewhere) and searched for images of buildings/churches mentioned.
I could follow Modiano’s descriptions exactly.
There are several phrases that will reappear to give the reader a clue to the mystery! Very clever!
parfum poivré; nous vivons un drôle d’époque; le saule pleureur (weeping willow); faire le canot…
Similarities I found in this book and another book by Modiano L’Herbe des Nuits:
Buildings with 2 exits:
Quote from Modiano clearly reveals the 2 exits:
Rue des Boutiques Obscures:
small Russian church rue Claude Lorrain where Guy finally finds M.Stoppia.
“Je crois […] tous les immeubles de Paris qui possédaient de doubles issues.” (pg 210)
L’Herbe des Nuits:
Apt building with two exits where Jean’s girlfriend has an appointment.
Café where you feel protected from outside world:
L’Herbe des Nuits: Le café de la rue d’Odessa
Rue des Boutiques Obscures: café de la place Blanche
L’Herbe des Nuits: Jean slips in and out of their “memory worlds’ and return to the present
Rue des Boutiques Obscures: Guy slips in and out of their “memory worlds and return to the present.
Surprise: changing’ narrator just creeps up on you!
Page 160-163; 168-169 suddenly Guy Roland disappears and
‘Pedro McEvoy’ tells the reader about his rendez-vouswith Denise.
I had to read these pages twice before I realized the ‘speaker’ had been switched!
Guy Roland is looking for his past…which gives the book a ‘detective like’ feeling.
Guy shows photographs of himself with friends from his past to people he hopes can give him information:
“Do you think I resemble this person in the photograph? (pg 45-69-79-91)
The answer is always the same:
“Attendez…attendez ça me revient…” and this gives Guy a small piece of the puzzle.
Modiano is obsessed with losing the past.
Memory and identity are his main themes.
Modiano can express this in a few simple words:
“…we are all ‘hommes des plages’ (people on a beach)
…the sand holds our footprint only for a few seconds.” (pg 72)
WW II is often a theme in Modiano’s books.
This book took place in 1965 but the author gives it a WW II feeling in a special way.
Guy Roland always feels ‘uneasy’ on ‘rive droite’ in Paris: pg 168
“… la peur me remarque, que l’on m’arrête, que l’on me demande mes papiers.” [fear he’s being watched, that one will check his papers].
Between September 1940 and August 1944, the Hotel Meurice (rive droite) became the headquarters of General Von Choltitz, the military governor.
Many collaborators lived on ‘rive droite’ . This explains Guy’s fears….he remembers the German occupation vividly.
There is no real plot (opening, rising action, climax, denouement).
The story is a collection of fragments out people’s lives and requires concentration to figure out ‘who is who’ while I read it in French!
Chapter 32 = read carefully!
His books are so easy to read in any language.
I enjoyed discovering how many tiny clues were mentioned in the book
….that were related to his own life/family story.
First love, Denise
Land: Argentina that left its mark on Modiano.
Café in Paris with sign ‘speak flemish’ (dutch)…
Modiano’s mother was Belgian.
Memory can be a curse or a blessing.
It gives us our identity
…but can prevent us from living in the present.
Be prepared to take a map of Paris with you when you read this book!
Here are just a few of the streets, bridges and quais mentioned:
Rue des Boutiques Obscures
Rue Anatole de la Forge
Rue Charles Marie Widor
Rue Claude Lorrain
Rue Chardon Lagache
Boulevard Richard Wallace
Quai du général Koenig
Avenue de New York
Rue de Bassano
19 quai d’austerlitz Rue Gabrielle
5 rue Foucault Avenue Hoche
Quai de Passy Pont de Bir Hakeim
Avenue de New York
Place de l’Alma Cours-La-Reine
Concorde Saint-Honoré Cambon