François Mauriac’s novel chronicles the ups and downs of Louis’s life as connected with his materialism, ambition, and pettiness. As he ages, however, he comes to realize that the values to which he subscribed have brought him misery and have alienated him from his family. The religious quality of the novel is based more in personal revelations than an embrace of a specific faith or participation in its rites. Louis undergoes a spiritual awakening that includes both gradual transformations and a moment of epiphany. His sudden recognition that he needs to look deep inside to understand himself is accompanied by the realization that love is a key component of this inner knowledge.
In his sixties, the patriarch Louis is dissatisfied with his family members’ behavior. He is especially bitter toward his wife, Isa, because of what he regards as her emotional betrayal. His idea to communicate with her in writing develops into a combined diary and confession. As Louis tries to record the events of his life, he finds himself analyzing his own behavior as much as assigning blame to Isa.
Through contemplating the generosity and goodness of others, including his deceased daughter, Louis comes to see the hypocrisy of his own approach: rather than genuinely sharing his wealth, he had tried to buy love. Once he realizes that he needs to know himself, he steps onto the path of spiritual growth that will allow him to end his days at peace.