by Patrick Modiano, a new translation from the French by Damion Searls
An NYRB Classics Original
Young Once is a crucial book in the career of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. It was his breakthrough novel, in which he stripped away the difficulties of his earlier work and found a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief. It has also been called “the most gripping Modiano book of all” (Der Spiegel).
Odile and Louis are leading a happy, bucolic life with their two children in the French countryside near the Swiss mountains. It is Odile’s thirty-fifth birthday, and Louis’s thirty-fifth birthday is a few weeks away. Then the story shifts back to their early years: Louis, just freed from his military service and at loose ends, is taken up by a shady character who brings him to Paris to do some work for a friend who manages a garage; Odile, an aspiring singer, is at the mercy of the kindness and unkindness of strangers. In a Paris that is steeped in crime and full of secrets, they find each other and struggle together to create what, looking back, will have been their youth.by Patrick Modiano, translated by Damion Searls
Modiano is a pure original. He has transformed the novel into a laboratory for producing atmospheres, not situations—where everything must be inferred and nothing can be proved. . . . You don’t read Modiano for answers. You read each Modiano novel for its place in a giant sequence: a new restatement of a single unsolvable crime.
—Adam Thirlwell, The Guardian
[An] edge of mystery, of indirection, motivates [Modiano’s work] like an animating force. . . . For Modiano, memory, experience are fluid, fleeting, and even the stories we tell ourselves are subject to change. Our lives flicker past us like the afterimage of a photo; eventually, our attempts at constancy must fall away.
—David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
Like W.G. Sebald, another European writer haunted by memory and by the history that took place just before he was born, Modiano combines a detective’s curiosity with an elegist’s melancholy.
—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic