For my second excursion into Modiano I chose his 2001 novel not yet translated into English ‘La Petite Bijou’ The Little Jewel.*** From the first book on this blog ‘La Rue des Boutiques Obscures’ we find certain similarities such as a quest for identity and past obscure events linked perhaps to a period around the Second World War.
The story concerns a young woman, not yet 20 years old, Thérèse, as the story opens she sees a woman in a yellow coat on a metro platform who resembles her mother, supposedly dead in Morocco several years earlier. As Thérèse begins to follow her we discover a fragile and traumatised girl who has no hunger for the life she lives and who stops eating and taking care of herself.
Throughout the book we follow Thérèse, as the story flows we understand that she was abandoned by her mother ‘The Bosche’ when she was 8 years old and that she had never known her father. This initial crossing of paths with the woman in the yellow coat sparks a desperate search amongst her distant memories of that epoch for an explanation to these events which left her with no family, no friends and no qualifications.
She lives from taking care of a young girl for several hours a week, through her eyes we see the transposition of her own feelings on this family, we understand that she sees the father as being almost always inexplicably absent and the mother treating her daughter as Thérèse felt treated by her mother.
As the story unfolds and Thérèse becomes slowly weaker she crosses paths with two improbable yet sympathetic carachters, firstly a translator Moreau-Badmaev who speaks twenty or so languages including ‘Prairie Persian’ and who spends his nights listening to far off radio programs by the reassuring green light of his radio, and secondly a female chemist who helps her home and watches over her at night.
The distress felt by Thérèse leads eventually to an attempted suicide, and as she awakes in hospital she feels reborn.
First published in French as La Petite Bijou by Gallimard in 2001
***Read in French, my translation