The story of an emotionally distant family as it struggles to come to grips with changing dynamics and the mysterious death of a young mother many years ago.
Like de Rosnay’s bestselling Sarah’s Key (2007), this novel is set in Paris, but while her earlier novel explored a national tragedy, this one tackles a personal one. Antoine Rey, son of the famous attorney, and his sister, Mélanie, are returning from a visit to the family’s old summer vacation stomping grounds when Mélanie tells her brother she has remembered something important about their mother’s death. She promptly steers the car into a wreck, putting herself in the hospital, unable to remember the important detail she once recalled. Antoine sits vigil by his sister’s side, trying to figure out what has gone wrong with his life: His wife has left him for another man, of his three children only one seems to like him anymore, and he is tired of dating vacuous young women. His father, who comes from a well-known Parisian family, is old, paunchy and distant—a complete shadow of the man who was married to the gorgeous Clarisse. Clarisse, Antoine and Mélanie’s mother, died when they were small children, supposedly succumbing to an aneurism in their apartment, but when Antoine starts questioning the version of her death they have always accepted as the truth, he stumbles upon some disturbing possibilities. In the meantime, he becomes involved in a relationship with a woman his own age who impresses him with her independence and sexuality, squares off against his eldest son and helps his daughter through a tough loss of her own. De Rosnay’s writing is eloquent and beautiful, and her characterizations are both honest and dead-on—anyone with a teenager will recognize the parental angst Antoine experiences as genuine. But the plot meanders to a conclusion that seems anticlimactic at best, a letdown at worst—the secret is hardly worth the trouble it causes.
For any other writer this would be a fine novel, but de Rosnay’s fans will expect more than the central character’s aimless journey.