The 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to French novelist Patrick Modiano, for “the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”
The protagonist of his novel, Missing Person (Rue des Boutiques Obscures), suffers from amnesia and has completely forgotten his past, including his true identity. With the aide of a detective, who has since become a good friend and associate, he was given “Guy Roland” as his new name and identity 10 years prior to the events at the start of the novel. With the retirement of his friend and associate from the detective agency, Guy is determined more than ever to find his past and to learn who he really is.
Clues in the form of names, phone numbers, addresses, and photographs lead him to different people all over Paris who may have known him – from Russian immigrants and American musicians to French models and South American diplomats, Guy visits them all in hopes of being recognized. Each person he visits gives him souvenirs or mementos of the past and provides clues as to who he may have been through their own memories and stories of their past.
As Guy follows each lead, he learns more and more about who he was and is able to piece together his fragmented memories, and after learning his true identity, he sets out in search of his friends and what may have happened after the events which may have caused his amnesia.
Missing Person is a strange little novel that ends as abruptly as it started. Though told mostly from the perspective of Guy, some chapters are the memories of strangers who may have been part of Guy’s past. Though his true identity is revealed in the end, his life and past is surrounded in mystery, the answers to which he may or may never completely learn.
Missing Person (1978) – Patrick Modiano
Editions Gallimard; 108 pages
Personal rating: 3/5