Reviews > Published on September 16th, 2015

Bookshots: ‘So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood’ by Patrick Modiano

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood

Who wrote it?

French novelist Jean Patrick Modiano, a multiple award-winner who most recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. While his books have been translated into over 30 languages, until he won the Nobel Prize most of his novels had not been translated into English.

Plot in a Box:

Writer Jean Daragane has established a very solitary life in his apartment in Paris, which is rudely interrupted on a hot summer’s night by a phone call. The caller informs him he has found his lost address book and would like to meet him to return it. The voice on the phone is threatening, but Daragane finds himself agreeing to meet at a cafe. All is not as it seems, as the caller wants to ask him questions about a name in his address book and connections to the murder of a young girl named Colette Laurent in 1951. Disturbed by the meeting, Daragane is drawn into remembering events long since past and people he has forgotten, most notably, Annie Astrand, who looked after him for two years when he was a boy.

Invent a new title for this book:

I would call it: The Fallibility of Memory

The caller wants to ask him questions about a name in his address book and connections to the murder of a young girl named Colette Laurent in 1951.

Read this if you liked:

Just about anything by Philip Roth.

Meet the book’s lead:

In his late fifties or early sixties, Jean Daragane is a solitary writer who likes his routines and his life in his corner of Paris. Wary of strangers, Daragane keeps himself to himself, no small feat in the bustling metropolis where he lives. He also is not taken to thinking about the past. In fact, he can’t remember his first novel, or how he came to write it.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

I think the main character would have to be played by a French actor, and Daniel Auteuil would fit the bill nicely.

Setting: would you want to live there?

It’s set in and around modern Paris, for the most part, and is fascinating in terms of its descriptions of how Paris has changed over the last 40 years – so yes, I would live there.

What was your favorite sentence?

"What a peculiar path I’ve had to take in order to reach you."

The Verdict:

Originally called Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, this is an odd one. If I say it’s ‘very French’, that may shed some light on it for you. Purportedly about the murder of a young dancer, whose body was found in a hotel room in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, it quickly becomes an investigation of Jean's childhood memories and the people he came into contact with while living in a small village outside Paris.

More about the reliability — or perhaps the fallibility — of memory, the book delves into Daragane’s past at great length, taking him back to his childhood when his mother sent him to live with a stranger named Annie Astrand. But is he remembering how it really happened or a reconstruction his mind has made of the past? It’s very hard to tell throughout the book.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book and the characters (perhaps ‘liked’ is too strong a word, maybe ‘understood them’), but I’m sure the ending is going to annoy a few people who prefer things tied up and wrapped in a neat little package. If anything, it was very thought-provoking and I’m still turning it over in my mind — it may well warrant another read.

About the author

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for 21 years now. On reaching London, he worked as a graphic designer and web consultant before starting a pub review website in the late 90’s.

His current book series, The Jaared Sen Quartet is set in near-future London, but also encompasses historical elements, reflecting his fascination with missing artifacts and conspiracy theories.

Dean left pub reviews behind in 2011 to concentrate on his writing and to set up a new company offering publishing services to authors, poets and artists as well as blogging and writing book reviews on his website at He lives in east London with his wife and two cats and dreams (often) of a house in France.

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