Slow-motion calamity awaits a girl in occupied France who falls in love with a member of the occupying army.
Adele Georges is only looking for news of her father, a Popular Front organizer who’s vanished from Arras, where he served in the medical corps. Manfred Halder, the sympathetic clerk who tries to help her get information, is only looking for a separate peace that doesn’t involve combat. But Rouen in 1941 is neither the time nor the place for these star-crossed lovers. For three years Adele struggles to keep her affair from both the Gestapo and her brother René, who’d think nothing of killing the German corporal who seduced his sister. The Allied invasion of 1944 promises liberation for her country but a fresh round of misery for Adele, reviled as a “horizontal collaborator” and torn from her family, home and lover, who’s been shipped to the Eastern Front. Nichol (Midnight Cab, 2004) presents the can’t-miss melodrama of Adele’s futile search for Manfred and her suffering as she caroms from one horror story to the next with an eye as sensitive to petty humiliations as to life-changing catastrophes, and the result is an odyssey as piercing in its details as it is familiar in its outline. Interspersed flash-forwards to the little town of Paris, Ontario, in 1946, add an additional layer of doom with the discovery of a human finger, then the decaying corpse it belongs to. Who is the man who’s been shot execution-style, and how is his fate connected to Adele’s? Suspense mounts as local police chief Jack Cullen makes the obligatory round of inquiries and Adele’s marriage to a troubled Canadian veteran draws the two stories inexorably together.
The long-awaited climax, though heart-rending, is too anticlimactic to resolve the knotty problems the story has posed. But Nichol makes a persuasive case that it couldn’t possibly have done so no matter what.