30 November 2021

Highlights from 'The Black Notebook'

Modiano, Patrick. The Black Notebook. Mariner, 2016.

My favorite bookstagrammer (is that how you call them?) told me that "[Patrick Modiano] has a very delicate way of painting nostalgia and memory." I only started to see that in the latter part of The Black Notebook.
"We're almost there," she said, "It's at the beginning of Rue Blanche..."

Last night, I dreamed that we were following the same route, probably because of what I had just written. I heard her voice, "It's at the beginning of Rue Blanche," and I slowly turned toward her. I said:

"At number 23?"

She appeared not to hear. We walked at a stready pace, her arm in mine.

"I once knew a girl named Mireille Sampierry who lived at 23 Rue Blanche."

She didn't react. She remained silent, as if I hadn't said a word, or as if the distance between us in time was so great that my voice could no longer reach her.

But that evening, I didn't yet know the name Mireille Sampierry. (p89)

For context, Mireille Sampierry is one of the aliases of Dannie (the girl in the dialogue), whom Jean (the narrator) is talking to.

Modiano has done this several times in the novel — mix the present with the past, real events with dreams; but here it stands out, as Jean, after so many years, begins to understand who Dannie really is. Starting with her name.

If only she exists in the present and not in Jean's memory.

That passage evokes the sensation of a vivid dream. In my experience, a bad dream is less heartbreaking, because waking up vanquishes it. A beautiful dream, however, where you could swear that you are laughing with your estranged friend, ends with the cold reality of it being just that — a dream.


Some underlined bits:

But Sundays, especially in late afternoon, if you are alone, open a breach in time. You need only slip into it. (p3)

Rather than always subjecting others to interrogation, it's better to accept them as they are, without comment. (p46)

Trinité Church, its dark façade like a giant bird at rest. (p89)

What a strange feeling, every time, when you learn things twenty years after the fact about people you once knew... You finally decipher, thanks to a secret code, what you had lived through in confusion and without really understanding... A car ride at night with the headlights off, and no matter how tightly you press your forehead against the window, you have no reference points. And besides, did you really ask that many questions about where you were going? Twenty years later, you follow the same path by day and finally see all the details surrounding you. But so what? It's too late, and no one is left. (p93)

Do we have the right to judge the people we love? If we love them, it's for a reason, and that reason prevents us from judging them — doesn't it? (p117)

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