This short novel from the 2014 Nobel Prize laureate covers familiar themes of evanescent recollection and impossible forgetting. The novel opens in the 1960s, when Jean Eyben, our narrator, is twenty years old and working at the Hutte Detective Agency in Paris, where his first assignment is to track down a young woman named Noëlle Lefebvre. He quests through Paris, searching for her and reflecting on the evanescence of memory.
Escape, the duplicity of memory, and oblivion itself—all, Modiano suggests, are essential to the act of living, which entails the periodic recreation of the self. What makes Invisible Ink such an enchanting read is its insistence on the importance of 'those spaces where memory blurs into forgetting,' and its glyptic insights into the mechanisms by which forgetting offers up alternative chronologies, which in turn allow the past to be reconfigured ... His emotional payloads court the ineffable, resolving often into a feeling of windsweptness, of the multiplication of doubts, of having missed out or of having somehow, subtly, led oneself astray. His novels seem tacitly to ascribe to Barthes’s description of literature as 'never anything but a certain obliquity, in which we get lost.' And so it hits, and hits hard, to find at the close a character doing what would almost seem, given all that’s gone before, an impossibility: trusting her memory.
Encre sympathique, or Invisible Ink , functions as a metaphor for Modiano’s deceptively simple style, for his skill at making tersely drawn characters and apparently tangled plotlines hauntingly memorable and evocative ... Encre sympathique is one of his best recent novels.
Invisible Ink is one of those books you must read twice:the first time to hear about Jean Eyben’s search for Noëlle and the second time to see how Modiano plays with Eyben’s memory—how he leaves breadcrumbs that lead Eyben to epiphanies. There is also a beautiful refrain that connects Noëlle’s life in Paris with her new life in Rome—but instead of Proust’s Vinteuil Sonata, this time, it is a verse by Paul Verlaine. Modiano’s novellas tend to have an orchestral vibe when read together. This translation of Invisible Ink could be a perfect opportunity to follow, albeit in reverse, a brilliant odyssey in the mysteries of memory.