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Missing person
Modiano, Patrick, 1945-
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Uniform Title:
Rue des boutiques obscures. English
1st ed.
Publication Information:
Boston, Mass. : David R. Godine, 2005.
Physical Description:
167 pages ; 21 cm.
"For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently retired boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a one-time client, into his detective agency. Guy makes full use of Hutte's files - directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century - but leads to his former life are few. Could he really be that person in a photograph, a young man remembered by some as a South American attache? Or was he someone else, perhaps the disappeared scion of a prominent local family? He interviews strangers and is tantalized by half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience."
General Note:
"On one level Missing Person is a detective thriller, a 1950s film noir mix of smoky cafes, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self"--Book jacket.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

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In this strange, elegant novel, Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory. On one level a detective thriller, Missing Person is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self. For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. Even his name was given to him by his benefactor, C. M. Hutte, who had welcomed this lost soul - originally his client - into employment at his detective agency. Now in retirement in Nice, Hutte has left Guy his office full of directories, yearbooks, and files of all kinds going back fifty years - pages that list people, things, vanished worlds, to which they alone bear witness. Guy is on his own, and his leads are few. All that remains of the person he had once been is a dim shape in the minds of two acquaintances, both society bartenders. Could he really be that figure in a photograph, standing beside an ash-blonde woman that one of the bartenders says had green eyes? Or is he perhaps the French aristocrat whose entry disappeared from the social register years before? He has sifted through strangers' recollections for traces of himself and of his supposed sweetheart, a Russian ballerina from Megeve - a couple who left nothing but a blur behind them. Missing Person is an extraordinary evocation of Paris in the 1930s and 1940s - the curious, muffled network of loose contacts, smoky cafes, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. Patrick Modiano's spare, hypnotic prose, superbly translated by Daniel Weissbort, draws his readers into the intoxication of a rare literary experience.

Author Notes

Paul Modiano is a French writer who was born on July 30, 1945, in Boulogne-Billancourt. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014 for his lifetime body of work. He previously won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2012 and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France for his lifetime achievement in 2010. His other awards include the Prix Goncourt in 1978 for his novel Rue des boutiques obscures and the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française in 1972 for Les Boulevards de ceinture.

Modiano's works explore the traumas of the Nazi occupation of France and the puzzle of identity. His preoccupation with the theme of identity can be seen throughout many of his works including his 2005 memoir entitled Un Pedigree. Modiano was greatly influenced by his parents' relationship. His mother and father began their clandestine relationship during occupied France. Growing up, his father was absent for most of his life and his mother was away frequently while on tour acting. He was alone much of the time and went to school because of government aid. His younger brother died of a disease at age 10 and this added to his "lost identity" feelings while growing up.

Modiano first came to prominence in France when he wrote the 1968 book La Place de L'Étoile. He has published over 30 works which include novels, screenplays and children's books. His other works include: La Ronde de nuit (1969), English translation: Night Rounds; Rue des boutiques obscures (1978), English translation: Missing Person; and Quartier Perdu (1984), English translation: A Trace of Malice. Although he is well known in France, only about 12 of his works have been translated into English.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Twenty-seven years after its original French publication won the Prix Goncourt, this elliptical, engrossing rumination on the essence of identity and the search for self finally enjoys its first U.S. edition (which uses Weissbort's smooth 1980 English translation). Set in postwar Paris, it follows an amnesiac now known as Guy Roland, employed for the past decade by a kindly private investigator. When the PI retires, Roland sets out to lift the veil on his past. As he ably conducts this most personal of investigations, Roland begins to suspect that he may have employed multiple identities, leading a mysteriously compartmentalized existence. He may even have been fleeing the German occupation when his memory was wiped away. Roland's explorations bring home his mentor's observation that we all live in a world where the sand keeps the traces of our footsteps only a few moments. Even as it opens the door to new mysteries, the enigmatic ending underscores the human drive to preserve those footsteps for as long as we draw breath. --Frank Sennett Copyright 2005 Booklist

Library Journal Review

The titular missing person is Guy Roland, a P.I. who suffers from amnesia and resolves to rediscover his own past, lost to him years before during the Nazi occupation of France. With little more to go on than vague, barely discernable memories, he methodically unearths one small fact after another-a name, a photograph, an address-creating dossiers on himself and others from his past. Moody, atmospheric, and dreamlike, this novel follows conventions of both noir fiction and ghost stories but can be read on many levels. Is Guy's memory loss a metaphor for France's collective amnesia about the occupation? Modiano is a prolific novelist and screenwriter, best known to American audiences for his screenplay of Lacombe Lucien, cowritten with director Louis Malle, and more recently for his screenplay of the Jean-Paul Rappeneau film Bon Voyage. Missing Person was the 1979 winner of France's prestigious Prix Goncourt. Weissbort's excellent English translation first appeared in Great Britain in 1980. Recommended for all fiction collections.-Janet Evans, Pennsylvania Horticultural Soc. Lib., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.