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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Little Jewel

Patrick Modiano

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To purchase Little Jewel

Title: Little Jewel
Author: Patrick Modiano
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 158 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Little Jewel - US
Little Jewel - UK
Little Jewel - Canada
La Petite Bijou - Canada
La Petite Bijou - France
Die Kleine Bijou - Deutschland
Bijou - Italia
Joyita - España
  • French title: La Petite Bijou
  • Translated by Penny Hueston

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Our Assessment:

B+ : evocatively sad and lonely

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 12/9/2015 Gregory Day
FAZ . 16/6/2003 Wolfgang Schneider
Die Zeit . 24/4/2003 Jochen Jung

  From the Reviews:
  • "Each encounter, each neon sign and garage becomes a node of significance in the authorís cartography of loss. By this we are made to feel the awful emotional vulnerability of a small girlís abandonment, almost as if we are reading Madame Bovary from the perspective of her child." - Gregory Day, The Australian

  • "Wer den Autor noch nicht kennt, sollte ihn mit diesem kleinen Juwel kennenlernen." - Wolfgang Schneider, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Dieses Buch hat Peter Handke übersetzt. Woran man das merkt? Daran, dass man es nicht merkt. Handkes Übersetzung bleibt wunderbar unauffällig, ist im besten Sinne dienstbarer Geist. So bleibt das Buch, was es nicht zuletzt auch ist: eine ganz und gar undeutsche Literatur, leicht, schwebend, mit sich selbst beschäftigt und sehr kunstvoll. Das pralle Leben besorgt man sich am besten am Wochenende. Die Kunst hingegen findet man in Büchern wie diesem." - Jochen Jung, Die Zeit

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:

       'Little Jewel' -- 'la Petite Bijou' -- is what Thérèse was called, for a while, as a small child. It is part of her lost youth, something her mother called her -- a mother who disappeared from her life, and reportedly died, in Morocco. So Thérèse was told -- though the vagueness of it all leaves her with doubts: she had told herself she would once travel to Morocco: "It was the only way to verify you were dead".
       Thérèse is a female protagonist, but otherwise bears many similarities to Modiano's typical characters, the story-focus on the time in their lives when they are coming of age and independence while still burdened by the mysteries of absent mothers and fathers. In Little Jewel Thérèse recounts the period when she was nineteen, already more than a decade after her mother disappeared from her life, the novel beginning with her seeing a woman in a yellow coat who, she believes, might in fact be her mother. She follows her -- stalks her, even, to some extent. The woman remains oblivious -- "I was certain that, even if I walked level with her, she wouldn't notice me" -- another revealing feature, because Thérèse's mother seems to have been similarly oblivious in her complete self-absorption. ("I had replaced the dog", Thérèse recalls, about a brief time when her mother paid her some attention .....)
       Thérèse's mother was always a shadowy, vague figure: "your first name, Sonia, was made up", for example, and Thérèse is certain that she lied about her age: "falsifying her papers in order to appear younger". The figure the nineteen-year-old Thérèse obsesses over remains as shadowy and vague; Thérèse observes her, listens to her, but is ultimately unable to make a connection.
       One of the jobs Thérèse took on around that time is that of minding a young girl for a few hours a day. The girl is like a younger version of herself, already left largely to her own devices by self-absorbed parents who seem to have no idea what to do with the young child. And:

They never uttered her first name. After all these years, I couldn't tell you now what that name was. I've forgotten it, and I wonder if I ever even knew it.
       (This nameless girl -- who, along with her parents, disappears from Thérèse's life as abruptly and mysteriously as her mother had -- has got to be among the absolute saddest figures in any recent work of fiction.)
       Thérèse does make closer connections elsewhere, finding support; the conclusion offers her a chance at a new start -- a symbolic re-birth, even, so that the novel can conclude with the words that: "from that day on, life was beginning".
       The fairly simple-appearing story of Little Jewel is, in fact, quite densely layered, and despite the sense of isolation the nineteen-year-old girl exudes there is a great deal of interaction, and attempts at connection.
       Hopeful in its conclusion, most of Little Jewel is a heavily melancholy seeking tale, an appealing variation on the typical Modiano-novel with its female perspective, well and convincingly handled by the author.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 August 2016

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Little Jewel: Reviews: 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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