A Parisian grandmother trying to help her daughter through a marital crisis mines the rich history of the family's past in this first novel to be translated into English by prizewinning French author de Villepin.
Eighty-six-year-old Christiane lives alone, missing her late husband. She feels little patience for her daughter Catherine's marital complaints but is happy to have both Catherine and her daughter, Luna, take refuge with her. "I choose to be resolutely nonconformist and scandalous," Christiane tells us. "I hate those qualities in young people, but I find them charming among us oldsters." She chides Catherine for overvaluing the marriage pact and delights her granddaughter, who's writing a thesis on pedagogical systems, with family stories about Rudolf Steiner. "I've had plenty of time to measure what one owes to the sacred and what must not under any circumstances be denied to the profane." Born in 1929, "spoiled and rather poorly raised" in a château, she recalls an adored and charming father with a motorcycle and side car and a prim, religious mother who terrorized her inadvertently with late-night applications of holy water. As she reminisces, a complex family portrait emerges of privilege and deprivation, anthroposophy and debauchery, suffering and grace. "One can't deny that old ladies like myself have tons of experience. When things are going to hell, we at least have this advantage: we know the truth—everything always ends badly." Her beloved father has a dark secret which causes a devastating rupture, and the idyllic childhood of hot air balloons and treasure hunts collapses into social ostracism. "One should not retrace one's steps," she muses, "one quickly smells death and abandonment." Although romantic liaisons are the putative theme here, the deepest relationships are the ones between parents and children. Christiane says, of her daughter, "My greatest love story is her."
A sprightly tour through an old woman's family secrets reveals that loving someone often requires the ability to forgive and a certain "sleight of hand."