Centering her first novel around a rural French village and the young Parisian who has come there as a traveling nurse, British author Kemp writes about the cost of suppressed passions—love, guilt, revenge—and the risk of secrecy.
Twenty-four-year-old Marguerite Demers is caring for the elderly, gravely ill Jérôme Lanvier at his worn-down estate outside the village of Saint-Sulpice. Marguerite has taken the job to avoid Paris, her well-to-do parents, and guilty memories concerning her sister, Cassandre, four years younger than her, who came down with meningitis when Marguerite was 15. Marguerite’s nursing career is a form of repentance for not having saved her sister. Secretive, obsessively self-blaming Marguerite relishes isolation, but she is sucked into incendiary undercurrents roiling within the village and inside Jérôme’s family. Crises arise from crossed purposes, not simple misunderstandings; Kemp doesn't let her characters off the hook that easily: They make choices, often unwise, that affect not only themselves, but others. Their opposing needs, desires, and angers tighten like a noose around the characters’ lives. Marguerite allows herself to become a pawn in the hostilities between her difficult patient and his adult sons. Jérôme is no stock literary curmudgeon with a soft heart. Always a bullying tyrant to his three resentful, still needy sons, Jérôme knows they hate him and hates them back. Meanwhile, Suki Lacourse, a local villager’s Iranian wife, tries to befriend Marguerite as a fellow outsider. Suki harbors deep bitterness toward the local women who never accepted her, in particular Brigitte Brochon, whose husband, Henri, rejected Suki’s sexual advances years before. Desperately in love with Henri, aware she is not his equal in looks or brains, Brigitte feels threatened by attractive, smart women like Suki and now Marguerite. But Henri, the one man in town who has won Jerome’s respect, cannot escape his own secret and accompanying shame. When he and Marguerite come together, the repercussions are disastrous.
Kemp writes with a careful restraint that makes the emotional explosions all the more powerful when they come.