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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In the Café of Lost Youth

Patrick Modiano

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To purchase In the Café of Lost Youth

Title: In the Café of Lost Youth
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: French
Availability: In the Café of Lost Youth - US
In the Café of Lost Youth - UK
In the Café of Lost Youth - Canada
Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue - Canada
In the Café of Lost Youth - India
Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue - France
Im Café der verlorenen Jugend - Deutschland
Nel caffè della gioventù perduta - Italia
En el café de la juventud perdida - España
  • French title: Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue
  • US edition translated by Chris Clarke (2016)
  • UK edition translated by Euan Cameron (2016)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely and effectively done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent* . 7/1/2016 Jonathan Gibbs
NZZ . 24/3/2012 Ingeborg Waldinger
The Spectator . 16/1/2008 Anita Brookner
The Times* . 26/12/2015 Melissa Katsoulis
TLS . 4/7/2008 Henri Astier

[*: review of the Euan Cameron translation]

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although everyone has their reason for wanting to know more about Louki, and although she has the chance to tell her own story, in a way you have to take her on trust. She could be any softly spoken, alluring and mysterious twenty-something woman, and because Modiano's narrators have a tendency to skate over the salient facts, even as they chase them down, she risks slipping through your fingers -- indeed, she seems designed to do so." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "Rolands/Modianos Chanson triste gilt dem alten Paris, der verlorenen Kindheit, der vergeudeten Jugend, der toten Geliebten Louki. Doch der Zeitfluss lässt sich nicht aufhalten: Nietzsches grosser Mittag und die ewige Wiederkehr bleiben Illusion. Unsterblich ist nur die Kunst." - Ingeborg Waldinger, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The point of this novel, or memoir, or episode is the wandering, vagabond life of Roland and Louki, who spend days and nights crossing and recrossing Paris and ending up in one small hotel after another. (...) This is an opaque and troubled novel which casts an uneasy spell and is imbued not only with regret for lost youth but equally regrettably with something like lost nerve." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "The style of the book will be familiar to Modiano readers: here again we have a combination of geographical precision and chronological vagueness. (...) In the end, we only have a dim idea of what actually happened and when -- especially as many crucial details are omitted. But none of this feels like an artificial literary device, and readers are left haunted by the cityscape Modiano paints in disjointed but vivid, half-finished strokes." - Henri Astier, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: This review refers to the US/New York Review Books edition, translated by Chris Clarke; the UK edition (MacLehose Press, also 2016) was translated by Euan Cameron.]

       In the Café of Lost Youth -- the title taken from a perfect Guy Debord-epigraph to the book -- begins in typical Modiano-fashion, an air of nostalgia as Modiano describes a slightly murky 1960s past with characters who are hard to get a fix on. It begins with a student describing the characters whose lives crossed at a Paris café, the Condé -- in particular a young woman nicknamed by someone in their circle 'Louki'. The student describes himself as:

a very unassuming customer at the Condé and I kept my distance, happy just to listen to them all.
       Indeed, when one late night he catches a ride home with Louki and Maurice Raphaël (like Arthur Adamov, who also frequents the café in the novel, a real-life figure -- and a man of many pseudonyms and guises), he realizes that neither even knows his name. But knowing the names -- real or assumed -- of most of these people hardly scratches the surface: identity is hidden (far) beneath and elsewhere. In the case of the student, he seems more concerned about hiding the fact that he is still a student, at the nearby École Supérieure des Mines. (His secret does apparently come out -- and the others convince him to quit.)
       In the Café of Lost Youth is presented in four parts, each with a different narrator: the second part is recounted by Caisley, who is charged by Louki's husband -- she turns out to be married -- to look into her disappearance, as she had left him two months earlier, "after an unspectacular argument"; it's this search that leads Caisley to the Condé. The third part is narrated by Louki herself -- who is actually Jacqueline Choureau, née Delanque, as we learned from Caisley. The final section is narrated by Roland, the Modiano-like figure looking back on that time, when he was just twenty -- and, of course, 'Roland' was just:
a name that wasn't even my real name. I had chosen it to simplify matters, an all-purpose, everyday name, one that could also serve as a last name. It was quite practical, Roland. And above all, so very French. My real name was too exotic.
       A closer relationship develops between Louki and Roland -- but both are still very young (Louki is only twenty-two -- fourteen years younger than her husband), adrift and searching.
       Several characters in that loose Condé-circle are writers, of various sorts -- Raphaël and Adamov, most obviously, but also some of the others. Bowing -- called 'the Captain' -- tries to capture what happens by, for three years: "taking note of the names of the Condé's customers as they arrived, in each instance jotting down the date and the exact time". And whereas Bowing tries to create 'fixed points' for reference -- "it's almost like a police register or a precinct logbook", one person observes -- Roland had tried to write a text in those days called On Neutral Zones, trying to chart:
a series of transitional zones in Paris, no-man's-lands where we were on the border of everything else, in transit, or even held suspended. Within, we benefited from a certain kind of immunity. I might have called them free zones, but neutral zones was more precise.
       Flighty Louki had already taken to wandering about Paris starting when she was fifteen, already seeking something. Her stab at marriage, the orbits of the Condé, her relationship with Roland seem like efforts to find a role and place -- but none are sufficient. For Roland, all that she ultimately leaves is:
a blank space that not only gave me a feeling of emptiness, but that I couldn't bear to look at. All of that blank space blinded me with a bright and radiant light.
       Like practically all of Modiano's novels, In the Café of Lost Youth is a trying-to-come-to-terms-with-the-past, facing memories, trying to fill the void and emptiness. It gives his works a sketchy feel -- so much seemingly left unsaid. And yet -- what more need be said ?
       Louki describes youthful escape at the cinema:
The films were set in far-off lands like Mexico and Arizona. I paid no attention to the plot, only the scenery interested me. Once I was back outside, I was left with a curious amalgam of Arizona and the boulevard de Clichy in my head.
       Modiano often seems to focus on scenery over what might pass as plot -- but his locales drip with meaning, too, from the café to the seemingly casually observed bullet holes in a neighboring building the student notices to Roland's long-lost five-page effort on 'the neutral zones'.
       The use of different voices and perspectives already gives In the Café of Lost Youth a slightly different feel than many of Modiano's novels, but it remains the same old thing, exactly what one expects from Modiano. It's nicely done -- carefully, artfully constructed, even. And, predictably, even with the benefit of four perspectives -- including Louki's own -- this central figure remains elusive.
       Although charged with trying to find her, Caisley ultimately decides he'll throw Louki's husband of the scent; yet even in doing the right thing can't see where it leads, the words of his generous gesture reading far differently in the story's conclusion:
Jacqueline could count on me. I would give her the time to put herself out of reach for good.
       As so often, Modiano closes a story that seems to have puttered often aimlessly through Paris and its streets in shocking-haunting fashion; certainly, much of it suddenly reads very differently. It makes for another impressive, accomplished work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 April 2016

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In the Café of Lost Youth: Reviews (* review of the UK/Euan Cameron translation): Patrick Modiano: Other books by Patrick Modiano under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Patrick Modiano was born in 1945. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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