Léon's slim debut novel tells the story of a French composer and his former student, brilliant but difficult, who reappears unexpectedly after an absence of 10 years.
The book opens with "a wandering silhouette, lost in the surrounding whiteness," chanting the words to the eponymous Schubert song. It's January in the lonely foothills of the Bourbonnais mountains. Hermin, a composer, has taken refuge in his work when a surprise visitor imposes on his solitude: Lenny, the piano prodigy he hasn't seen in a decade. "A teenager had left him; a man had returned." There are two central mysteries here: Why has Lenny come back into Hermin's life? And why did he leave so abruptly all those years before? Interwoven with the third-person account of their strained reunion is an extended flashback from Hermin's point of view, detailing how he first came to befriend the German teenager and eventually take him in. Other mysteries arise. What is behind Lenny's passionate insistence that he will never give another concert? Why won't he stop coughing? And why do these characters have such a hard time asking direct questions? Both writing and story are overwrought and often melodramatic: "music, that sovereign divinity, that inexpressible force to which he'd consecrated himself since childhood, and in which nothing, not absence, not even suffering, would ever be able to shake his faith." The mood grows claustrophobic. After revealing the truth about a decade-old betrayal, Lenny hurls himself coatless into a winter storm, risking death by exposure and compelling Hermin into the dark night after him. What claims are we allowed to make on the people we love? Léon seems to ask. And what do we owe those who love us in ways we can't reciprocate?
Romantic with a capital R, the novel ultimately treats the relationship between the two men with a delicacy that is unexpectedly moving.