Geist - - Features - —Thad Mcil­roy

In the open­ing sen­tence of Pa­trick Mo­di­ano’s Paris Noc­turne (Yale Univer­sity Press) the nar­ra­tor is cross­ing the Place des Pyra­mides in Paris on the way to the Place de la Con­corde. In the last para­graph: a lift is climb­ing slowly to a ter­race, where the nar­ra­tor has been promised “a view over­look­ing the whole of Paris.” There are many things to rec­om­mend Paris Noc­turne. A tac­i­turn, un­named nar­ra­tor out­lines a mys­tery that un­folds on a win­ter’s night. There’s a car ac­ci­dent, the driver, wear­ing a smile and a fur coat, now miss­ing. Some­where in the back­ground is his name­less, face­less fa­ther, a crook, “whose only ed­u­ca­tion was the street.” But what struck me more in this slim vol­ume was the most im­por­tant player in the story: Paris it­self. The lo­ca­tions are all named: the po­lice van driv­ing along Quai des Tui­leries, the ho­tels, bars, restau­rants and cafés iden­ti­fied by name and lo­ca­tion (Les Cal­can­ques: it’s at 4 rue de la Coutel­lerie). The num­ber 21 bus is boarded at Porte de Gen­tilly. We of­ten say that place is as much a char­ac­ter as any of the peo­ple in a story. But Paris is not a char­ac­ter in Paris Noc­turne; it’s a con­di­tion. It’s an ob­sta­cle and an en­abler. It’s the nar­ra­tor’s al­ter ego. It asks questions and then re­fuses an­swers. I couldn’t help won­der­ing: is there an­other city in the world where a writer could in­tri­cately weave the ge­og­ra­phy into ev­ery page and ex­pect the reader to not only en­dure this, but be pulled will­ingly into the mist? I’ve vis­ited Paris, yes, more than once, but I know few of these places. I was not on fa­mil­iar ground in Paris Noc­turne. But by the end I could ac­cept the enigma posed by de­serted places so care­fully de­scribed. I was anx­ious to em­brace the view over­look­ing the whole of Paris.

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