Chapters 1-3 Summary
The novel opens with Antoine Rey waiting nervously in an Emergency Room following a very serious automobile accident. Antoine is desperate to know the status of his sister, Mélanie, who was driving the car when they had the accident. With the nurse unable to relay any pertinent information, Antoine imagines how he would explain to his family that his sister is dead. Finally, Doctor Besson, a warm and sympathetic female surgeon, arrives to let him know that Mélanie has survived and inquires more about the accident. Suddenly, Antoine realizes that Mélanie was about to tell him something important she remembered right before the crash.
The story flashes back to the beginning of Antoine’s trip with Mélanie. As she sleeps beside him in the car, he recalls surprising her with a getaway weekend for her birthday. He has planned the getaway to help distract her from a devastating break-up with her boyfriend, Olivier, as well as her high-pressure publishing job. Antoine also recalls his divorce from his ex-wife, Astrid; he found out she was having an affair with Serge (with whom she now lives) when he discovered a sex video on her camera. Despite the nature of their parting, and Antoine’s active dating and sex lives, he finds himself still in love with Astrid. When the sleepy Mélanie wakes up, she tries to guess where they are going for her birthday trip. When she correctly guesses Noirmoutier, she reveals some reservations about returning there. The brother and sister have not been there since 1973, when Mélanie was six. It was the last summer they spent with their mother, Clarisse.
As they approach the island of Noirmoutier, Antoine recalls his childhood visits there with the rest of his family: Clarisse, his mother; his hard-working father Francois (who only came out to the island on the weekends); his father’s spinster sister Solange; and his patrician grandparents, Robert and Blanche. Antoine remembers his fascination with the Passage du Gois, a submersible road that used to be the only way to access the island. Prior to leaving on the trip with Mélanie, Antoine rediscovered a book given to him by Clarisse detailing the numerous deaths caused when the quick-moving tide caught people on the Gois. Despite the completion of a permanent bridge, many still used the Gois to get to the island. As they enter the island, Antoine is dismayed to find it more populated, particularly with tourists. Mélanie, who was only six when they last visited, begins to recall more information about the island—especially the Gois.