Although a band of counterfeiters does in fact appear in the novel, the title functions intentionally at several levels, calling attention to the falsehood and hypocrisy of adult lives lived under the watchful, inquiring gaze of the often-disturbed children and adolescents who are, in fact, the novel’s main characters.
Focusing primarily on the students and faculty of a small Protestant boarding school, the novel repeatedly contrasts the restless questioning of the youthful characters with the unquestioning smugness of their parents and other elders. For years, the students of the Pension Azais-Vedel have turned a deaf ear to the hollow, hypocritical platitudes of the pastor, Azais, and his son-in-law, Vedel, realizing that such advice does little to prepare them for the realities of life. Even the pastor’s own children and grandchildren have had to fend for themselves, with often disastrous results. The opening scene, in which young Bernard Profitendieu runs away from home after discovering his illegitimacy, sets the tone for the entire novel; later, young Georges Molinier will steal a packet of love letters from his father’s mistress to use as a form of blackmail.
Although somewhat confused in its organization, the action often hinging on improbable coincidence, the novel nonetheless manages to hold the reader’s interest even as it explores the problems and possibilities of novel writing: Georges’ maternal uncle, Edouard, a former...
(The entire section is 558 words.)