The name of the 2014 Nobel Prize winner for Literature came as an unexpected surprise. To most people, it rang no bell and we ended up asking around about him and his writings. Among my avid readers, Patrick Modiano was a new discovery. Even before receiving this prestigious award, he was highly appreciated in Germany and obviously in France, but to the rest of the reading world, he remained shy of publicity.
‘La Petite Bijou’ (The Little Jewel) is the first novel of his I have come to enjoy. It is easy to read and offers an open ending, engaging the reader into the story, far beyond the finishing lines. Such books are probably meant to challenge the reader's imagination past the obvious narrative. A young troubled woman catches a glimpse of an older one in a yellow coat, whom she assumes to be her long-lost mother. She starts following her around and step by step, memories of her childhood gather up to build a sad puzzle of a confusing relationship. The Little Jewel seems to easily connect to strangers and each encounter is nothing but an echo of her longing for the mother who suddenly disappeared from her life, without trace or explanation.
In our readings, we come to embrace characters and stories, identifying with their feelings and emotions, appropriating their lives, only to mirror back our own distress. This is a book where the writer himself embarks on such a journey and Little Jewel feels like a welcoming attire that clothes the shapes of all those browsing its pages. The outcome of this journey is not only the opportunity to properly mourn the lost ones but to come to terms with the emptiness the loss has left in our lives. In Jacques Lacan's words- a hole in the Real.
The book is puzzling in the way the story softly reads itself and the uncomfortable sensation the reader gets by walking the streets alongside Little Jewel to find again what time has stolen. This futility of the search is redeeming since there is a certain warmth that lingers between the lines and the kaleidoscopic journey. It is sad with a real sadness that feels alive and fruitless, at the same time. From the first pages, you are absolutely positive the search is bound to reveal something rather than lead somewhere and the last pages are nothing but the beginning of another story. It could be that of Little Jewel's awakening or the one the reader chooses to continue, as his own.
Therese, the Little Jewel, is swimming through the maze of her own imagination, lying to people instead of being genuine .She does this on a serene face because it takes a lot of courage to utter the incertainties of a haunted mind. Her quest feels only real inside her mind, to the utter world is just being original or simply in need of a shoulder to cry on. She never does and lying is her shield against reality. Moreover, it is amazing how Modiano shapes the image of a mother with the help of her daughter's prefabricated truths, fading memories and inquisitive mind. Little Jewel searches for a mother that is nothing but the reverse image of herself. This journey is not about the woman in the yellow coat to whom she pays the debts, in the most natural way, it is about herself, fighting her demons and finding her own place in the unknown world. Moreau/Badmaev and the chemist, foreigners ready to lend a hand, are nothing but images of her own troubled self as she projects herself against the world. Memories, loss, identity, the quest, reality, lies are some of the themes that fill the novel and it is this floating sea of the unknown that bears an original style, that of Patrick Modiano.