In the Café of Lost Youth – Patrick Modiano (Translated from the French by Chris Clarke)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“I’ve always believed that certain places are like magnets and draw you towards them should you happen to walk within their radius. And this happens imperceptibly, without you even suspecting… It seems to me that because of its location, the Condé had that sort of magnetic power, and if one were to calculate the probability, the results would indicate that within a fairly large area, it was inevitable that you would drift towards it. “

Café Condé was popular for the 19 – 25 year olds who wanted to escape the monotony of life. It was also sprinkled with a few older patrons who perhaps were desperate to relive the days of their youth. No matter who they were, they were somewhat in transit and in search of meaning.

What they also had in common was that they all remembered the young, enigmatic Jacqueline Delanque, nickname Louki .

We learn about this lonely, lost woman from meager upbringings from her own perspective, as well as from the narrative of her husband, her lover, and the investigator hired to find her.

Author Patrick Modiano, recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, paints a dark, dreary portrait of 1950’s Paris in this melancholy novella, In The Café of Lost Youth, originally published in French in 2007.

Modiano’s noir-esque style along with the all too human characters kept me captive throughout the story.

Even so, there are some aspects that I wished I could appreciate the significance of. This is where I think the publisher, NYRB Classics, should have included an “Introduction”, common in most of their books. These essays usually explain the author’s motivations, culture and sociology of the time.   For example, a teacher of the occult who Louki often followed was apparently supposed to represent Guy Debord, a twentieth century Marxist theorist. Though I spent hours researching, I ‘m still not sure that I understand the significance.

That said, I still recommend In the Café of Lost Youth for story and style. I may re-read it though. It affected me that much.

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