(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The novel opens with an introduction to the principal characters, beginning with Clara, who has been married for a dozen years but has not acted since her first film and marriage to Serge. She lives an apparently luxurious life in a large house in Etang-la-reine, a suburb of Paris. She has a small, deaf son whom Serge insists on sending to boarding school, to Clara’s dismay. The cracks in this marriage become increasingly apparent as the novel progresses and Clara falls in love with her handsome and debonair neighbor, Antoine (who appeared in Johnson’s 1997 novel Le Divorce). Eventually they begin an affair that forecasts the end of both of their marriages and has serious implications for the marriage of Anne-Sophie and Tim.

Meanwhile, Clara is caught up in some incidents that complicate her life and land her briefly in prison. She and her husband vigorously oppose hunting in their neighborhood and the laws that permit hunters to pursue wounded prey on their land. Their opposition to this ancient custom provokes the mayor and his cronies and results in a lawsuit having nothing to do directly with this matter but concerning the alleged sale of historical properties from their house. The lawsuit claims that the Crays sold valuable historical objects from their château, although actually the objects were gone when they bought the house and moved in.

In another, unrelated event, Clara becomes involved with fellow Oregonian Delia Sadler, whose passport and wallet were stolen as she entered Paris for the first time with her colleague, Gabriel Biller. Clara helps Delia, who is under suspicion along with Gabriel for the theft of a valuable medieval illustrated manuscript from the Morgan Library in New York and the murder of a French antique dealer. Gabriel disappears for a while as Clara finds Delia a hotel and later allows her to come and live in her home. There, Serge becomes fascinated with Delia and Oregon and the “Premillenniums,” a Y2K cult in Oregon that she knows and has some dealings with. The cult members are activists who see the end of the world coming with the millennium and concentrate on apocalyptic writings, such as the stolen manuscript describes. Serge begins to see all this as the subject of his next film, and goes so far as to put Delia on the payroll of his film company to gather more information.

Anne-Sophie, though not a witness to the murder of her colleague, Monsieur Bonherbe, in the flea market, is the first to see him with his throat cut and two Americans, Delia and Gabriel, standing beside the body. Delia is questioned by the police and told to remain in Paris until further notice, but Gabriel disappears. Anne-Sophie later sees him furtively ascending to the attic above the stalls but does not tell anyone until several days later, when Gabriel is apprehended. Tim gets involved in trying to sort things out for the Americans (he is partly American himself, although his mother is Belgian) and is smitten by Clara at a dinner party when the story of the murder is told to the assembled guests. He is also involved in trying to track down the missing manuscript.

Clara’s first encounter with Antoine is at their tennis club. Although she tries to resist the attraction she feels for him, it becomes irresistible. On his part, he too finds her more and more attractive, and comes partly to her aid in the imbroglio the Crays are in with the mayor and the townspeople over the hunting issue. At one point, to the dismay of his family, he even offers to sell part of his land to the Crays so that their property will be big enough to exempt them from the ancient customs they oppose. When Serge flies alone to Oregon a few weeks later, because Clara’s mother has disappeared and Clara is forbidden by the authorities to leave the country, Antoine and she begin their affair. On his return, Serge learns of it, and at a prewedding dinner party he gives for Anne-Sophie and Tim, he threatens to shoot his wife before...

(The entire section is 1613 words.)