A heroic veteran of World War I faces trial for a mysterious offense.
The structure of Rufin’s (The Dream Maker, 2013, etc.) novel of war and ideology is a meticulous and precise one, slowly bringing together a number of characters, each with his or her own ideals and quirks. At the center is Morlac, a young French soldier being held prisoner for an as-yet-unrevealed offense. Slowly, characters gather around him: the man who is investigating the case; Valentine, a young woman with a long history with Morlac; and the dog that stands near the prison, barking ceaselessly and frustrating those working there. Slowly, the story of Morlac’s wartime activities emerges; slowly, too, the nature of his connections with Valentine and the dog. Rufin is at his best when evoking the complex blend of political convictions and ideologies that intermingled, sometimes violently, on the front lines. Morlac’s own disillusionment and despair are also rendered powerfully. Rufin summons an abundance of drama not from a series of actions but from their aftermaths, and the question of how Morlac will deal with his future is one that haunts the novel. At times, the chamber setting adds an element of restraint to the proceedings: there are no real antagonists here, only characters struggling with their own actions and histories. But it’s also a novel that abounds with sensory details, from the overwhelming heat to the claustrophobic interiors of the space where Morlac is held, creating a vivid impression of its setting.
Rufin’s novel is meticulous and orderly in its depictions of basically sympathetic characters trying to understand one another and find a common ground.