Patrick Odiano, Ė OUT OF THE DARK
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By Patrick Odiano,
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1998
ISBN: 0-8032-8229-X
139 pages

Bob Corbett
April, 2015

I found this to be a challenging and intriguing read. At a key level it is the story of the life of an unnamed man from about the age of 17 or 18 until heís about 50. However, given that it involves others, especially a woman Jacqueline, it is sort of her story as well.

The novel opens in Paris during the 1968 student uprisings. The narrator is young and restless, seemingly on his own. He has almost no money and had been a student having a goodly number of books. He begins to sell them, and then to buy books from other dealers to sell to yet other dealers. I could very much relate to that since I spend some 20 years doing the same thing!

However, the young 17 or 18 year old narrator meets Jacqueline and her, then, lover or at least partner, in a Paris cafť. They become friends, and with no detail of how or why, he is simply immediately a part of their circle, a third wheel who seems to be most welcomed in their world.

He does fall for the beautiful Jacqueline and appears to have some sort of sexual relationship, but itís mainly hints and suggestions, no real disclosures. She is tiring of her partner of that time, and makes various suggestions to the narrator that she wants to be with him and does have some sexual relations with him when her partner isnít around.

Eventually the two of them steal some money and simply flee France and end up in London. They just wander around, not having much of any idea how they will get along and how they can earn any money, living, in the meantime, in some extremely grubby run down hotel.

Fortunately they meet a young English woman who introduces them to her friend who has lots of money and gives them some simply because he sort of likes them.

It appears the London experience is close to a year long, but eventually Jacqueline, without a word to him, simply disappears. He isnít very upset about it, and has, during this period in London, decided he will become a writer which he does and to some extent never revealed to us, seems to have had some at least minimal success.

We meet up with him some 15 years later when he is in Paris again and he accidently meets up with Jacqueline by pure accident. He manages to get into a party where he suspects she will be and she does, indeed, turn up with her husband. She pretends not to know him at all, but when the party is over she manages to drive him home and, while they donít make love, they do have some physical contact and resolve to perhaps get together again. However, he never follows up on this.

Another 15 years passes and he again sees her on the streets of Paris. After following her a bit, he simply decides to end this phase of his life and he walks away, never to see her again.

What is the reader to make of this relatively dark story? I think author, Patrick Modiano, is creating a character that lives a relatively meaningless life and expects nothing else of life. He appears to have little or no ambition. He does write, and seemingly ekes out a living, but he doesnít talk about it, and appears to have little to nothing which moves him or drives him in any direction.

Perhaps this is Modianoís view of human existence; that it is a relatively meaningless blip within time, and one just somehow survives until one no longer survives. The novel ends with no future indicated for the nameless narrator.

If this is Modianoís position and plan, I think he does it well. The narrator is believable, he seems to be consistent over a 30 year period, and as the novel ends the prospects are that he will continue to live this same mode of life for as long as it goes on.

I am in no way persuaded by Modianoís view of human existence; Iím much too much of an optimist and dreamer, choosing to create the existence I wish for myself and partner. Nonetheless, I appreciate Modianoís challenge that there may well be many people out there like the narrator who are thoughtful, able and still choose to embrace a life of relative meaninglessness, a life that is simply to be endured and lived without complaint or drive to create anything more out of it.

If this is the message, if any, within the novel, I think he has made his case with power and quietness.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett