Extraordinary Little Details

I often fixate on the smallest of phrases, temporarily paralyzed until the few syllables that have stunned me have made their way back and forth over my brain a few times. It happened again this evening, as I was reading Patrick Modiano’s Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (In the Café of Lost Youth; I don’t think it’s been translated into English)* over a sad dinner of oatmeal and lentil chips (not mixed together, lest I give Croesus, as discussed yesterday, competition in the game of strangely-combined concoctions). Here, Caisley, a detective, wants to keep walking around in the warm night air– but has to forgo said pleasure due to the unfortunate fact that his new shoes are doing a number on his instep.** It was the specific designation of the part of the foot that was undergoing torture that made my ears perk up. Why be that explicit, or choose such an infrequently-mentioned part of the foot with which to be explicit? (Why not suffer from the usual pinched toes, for example?)  Will the instep become important later on, some sort of marker of a lost identity, a variety of Achilles’ heel that leads to the downfall of this seemingly decent professional? Modiano goes for precision again on page 67, having Caisley remove one of his shoes and massage an offended instep– so maybe there’s something to having us notice this particular area of the body. Still, it’s weird.

All the same, I love it– and might be even more fond of the mention, when all’s said and done, if that aching little area has absolutely no relevance at all to the outcome of the story– but was just placed there because it felt right. We’ll see; this guy had to win the Nobel Prize for some reason, and I’d be thrilled if the inclusion of seemingly random details played even a small part in the illustrious judges’ decision to grant it to him.


* Patrick Modiano, Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2007).

** In the original, Caisley states, “Malheureusement, mes nouvelles chaussures me faisaient très mal aux cous-de-pied.” Ibid., 57.


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