A best-seller in France, this enormously effective novel of abused innocence may well gain Queffelec a solid foothold in the American market. Nicole, a French teen-ager from the provinces, is brutally raped by three American GI's. When she becomes pregnant, crude attempts are made to abort the tell-tale fetus, but nettle vinegar, onion peelings, and the taproots of black radishes on a moonless night don't prevent the birth of Ludo, a boy whose eyes recall those of one of Nicole's rapists. Nicole is ostracized by her family, and Ludo, regarded as an abomination, is hidden in the attic to subsist on meager rations and his own imagination. When Nicole marries an older widower, Ludo is brought down from the attic and sent to school--and not surprisingly turns out to be a social misfit. Nicole abhors the sight of this tall, eager-to-please child who exists as a constant reminder of her past; and the more she rejects him, the more aggressively he attempts to win her approval. Finally Nicole convinces her husband to exile Ludo to a posh home for the insane, where he fritters away time in the company of an assortment of truly deranged characters. While Ludo's captivity in the ""home"" frees him from the hideous torments of an older stepbrother, he instinctively knows he's been shafted, and doggedly awaits his mother's arrival to liberate him from his surroundings. Nicole never arrives, of course, and Ludo's contempt for his lunatic status leads him to escape into total isolation in a wreck by the sea, the scene of a final meeting between mother and son that ends in violence. With its deft handling of a child's inner world, and carefully reined-in sentimentality, this cuts a fine line between melodrama and an absorbing psychological study.