Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580
Antoine and Mélanie walk from their hotel to the beach (Plage des Dames). As they arrive, Mélanie sees landmarks she remembers from her childhood and both of them reminisce about what it was like to be there as children. When Mélanie goes for a swim, Antoine pretends he forgot his swimsuit because he is embarrassed about having gained weight since his divorce while Mélanie has remained trim since her break-up. Antoine reminds Mélanie about Père Benoit, the gardener who used to work at the hotel. He used to regale Antoine will all of the many tragedies, particularly the Saint Philibert disaster. The Saint Philibert was a luxury ship that capsized in a storm shortly after a visit to the Plage des Dames. Mélanie confesses that being back at the beach has brought back lots of memories about their long-deceased mother. Both of them acknowledge that the family currently has strained relationships. Antoine and Mélanie’s father had a falling-out with Solange after Robert’s death; now, Solange and a servant, Gaspard, look after the aged Blanche’s nursing care. Mélanie wonders how Clarisse got along with all of them; she suspects that both she and Antoine will remember more as their vacation continues.
In a brief interlude that appears to be epistolary, a woman (who seems to be Clarisse) pines for an unseen paramour; she worries that her mother-in-law might know something about her secret.
At lunch, Antoine and Mélanie discuss their largely unsatisfying sex lives: his disdain with sexually aggressive younger women and her surprising affair with an older married man. Sex causes Antoine to think of his sexually active son, Arno, and his preadolescent daughter, Margaux, both of whom have grown distant since the divorce.
In another written interlude, Clarisse again speaks to an unseen lover whom she hopes to see tomorrow.
After lunch, Mélanie and Antoine recall their uptight upbringing (particularly by their grandmother, Blanche). Antoine remembers a fight between Clarisse and Blanche their last summer at Noirmoutier, but he isn’t sure what it was about. As they also question their lack of photographs of their mother, Antoine realizes that his stepmother, Regine, must have removed them.
Clarisse writes to her lover about her in-laws’ reluctant acceptance of her because of her beauty (which compensates for her common origin).
At dinner, Mélanie asks about Antoine’s divorce, but he prefers not to discuss it. His loneliness and depression about his life was amplified by a recent get-together with some happily (and smugly) married schoolmates.
While waiting for Mélanie, Antoine remembers the big fuss made by the family to prepare for their father’s weekend arrivals. Antoine runs into Bernadette, a longtime employee of the hotel who remembers his whole family. Long believing that the family was somehow upset with the hotel’s service, Bernadette is shocked to find out that 1973 was the last year they visited because Clarisse died the following year.
In another letter, Clarisse wonders if her year-long love is destined to remain a secret.
At breakfast, Mélanie questions Antoine about his distant relationship with his two older kids. He fears that his youngest, Lucas, will soon become sullen like the other two. Antoine balks at Mélanie’s suggestion that he should make them respect and communicate with him. Later, at the pool, Antoine sees other happy young families and recalls how he used to be one of them.
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Clarisse writes of a secret tryst during a power outage at her daughter’s birthday celebration. She speaks longingly of their next sexual encounter and wonders if they can make a new family with her children. She asks for the correspondence to be destroyed.
For the last night of their getaway, Antoine treats Mélanie to a fancy dinner. She is less than thrilled with turning forty and wonders if she will ever find someone and get married. She also presses Antoine to move on from his divorce. The dinner ends awkwardly when a sixty-something man mistakes Mélanie for her mother. Antoine and Mélanie leave without telling the man that their mother has been dead for decades.
Clarisse writes to her lover, who is departing for Paris by train, leaving the note under the door (instead of their usual hiding place). She expresses her longing and again asks for the note to be destroyed.
The last morning of their visit finds Antoine watching the Gois disappear under the tidal surf. When Mélanie appears, she is obviously distraught and Antoine wonders whether contact (or lack thereof) from Olivier or her married lover is the cause. He also dreads the return to his boring office, with his difficult, matronly assistant, Florence. Mélanie only brightens when they pack up the car and head off the island.
After a rest stop, Mélanie asks to drive and they switch places. Antoine recalls how difficult it was for her when their mother died. As a small child, she did not understand, and had frequent nightmares which her family was ill-equipped to handle. She tells Antoine she needs to tell him something she remembered. Suddenly, she loses control of the car. Antoine recalls the sounds and sights of the terrible accident, hearing his sister’s screams before he blacked out.
The story flashes forward to the hospital scene of the first chapter. Doctor Besson informs him that his sister ruptured her spleen and fractured several vertebrae, nearly dying. As the doctor examines Antoine to make sure he is alright, he sees flashes of the accident: pulling himself out of the wreckage and calling to his unconscious sister. Reluctantly, he calls his father, Francois, to inform him of the accident. After their conversation, Antoine mulls over his father’s complete disappointment with him, his career, and his life choices. Three years after Clarisse died of an aneurysm, Francois married Regine, a social climber who gutted their home and redecorated it in a modern style. The children were raised strictly, not allowed to show any emotion. In 1982, Regine gave birth to Josephine, who quickly displaced Mélanie and Antoine. Antoine recalls Francois and Regine’s wedding, and marvels that his father seemed to have no real feelings for her at all.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509
After a poor night’s sleep, Antoine checks in on Mélanie who remembers nothing about the accident. Shortly after, their father, Francois, shows up and tries to bully Dr. Besson into moving his daughter to Paris, which is still too risky. Francois is surprisingly emotional as he greets Mélanie. Reflecting on his own hospital visits with his children, Antoine realizes that they both know what it is like to worry about an ailing child. Antoine notes the difference in his father before and after Clarisse’s death. The close relationship they had when Antoine was a boy has given away to cold, terse relations and endless criticism. Antoine reluctantly calls Astrid to tell her and the kids about the accident. Later, Antoine’s half-sister, Josephine, shows up and shows an unexpected interest in Antoine and Mélanie. Because of the large age difference, Josephine has never been particularly close to either of them. She asks Antoine to talk about his mother since it is a forbidden topic with Francois and Regine. Just as they seem to be warming to each other, Josephine asks Antoine for money (she does not want to ask her parents). Despite feeling duped, Antoine agrees, provided that it is a loan, not a gift.
Antoine escapes to a nearby café as he awaits Astrid’s arrival with the children. Having taken smoking up again since he divorced, Antoine takes any opportunity he can to smoke. As he waits, he pictures the house that he and Astrid bought and remodeled over the course of their marriage. Antoine considers it the perfect house and cannot bear to think of Astrid living there with Serge and the kids. He links his meek, quiet acceptance of the end of his marriage to a childhood in which controlling one’s feelings was privileged above all else. When Astrid arrives, they are all emotional, and Antoine can barely disguise his feelings for her. They visit a fragile-looking Mélanie, who is overjoyed to see them. Antoine leaves them alone, keenly feeling Clarisse’s absence from this reunion.
Antoine offers his hotel room to Astrid and Margaux to freshen up before their long drive home. When Antoine finds himself alone with Arno, his oldest son, the teenager questions him about the accident. Antoine is surprised by his normally withdrawn son’s interest in his father and decides to be open with him. He shares with his son the pain of losing Clarisse and the repressed environment that followed. Their reconnection is cut short by Arno’s mobile phone; as Antoine wonders about his son’s dating life, he recalls his own meager experiences as a single man. Aside from Internet hook-ups, his only meaningful connection since Astrid is Helene, the married mother of one of Margaux’s classmates. While waiting for Arno, Antoine shares a cigarette with an attractive woman from the hospital who has exchanged smiles with him several times. She disappears just as Antoine’s family returns, and he braces himself for the inevitable pain of their departure.
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After his end-of-the-day visit with Mélanie, Antoine runs into Angèle Rouvatier, the attractive hospital worker who shared his cigarette and some flirtatious glances earlier in the day. She is straddling a Harley Davidson motorcycle and Antoine is immediately intrigued. After some awkward banter, the two decide to go for a drink, which quickly turns into a sexual liaison in Antoine’s hotel room. Antoine is nervous at first, but Angèle proves to be a skilled and forceful lover. Afterwards, as they make small talk, Angèle points out Antoine’s self-deprecating tendencies, as well as his attempts to suck in his potbelly. The biggest surprise is that Angèle reveals her specific line of work at the hospital: she is a mortician, and she was reluctant to reveal it because she thought it would spoil their tryst. She leaves Antoine (ostensibly to return to her boyfriend) with the promise of future encounters. He falls asleep contentedly while watching Cyd Charisse dance in Singin' in the Rain, with a flirtatious text from Angèle.
Antoine recalls the end of his marriage and, like every other aspect of his life, criticizes himself for his reserve, complacency and inaction. While on vacation, Astrid met Serge and initially Antoine thought nothing of it; however, Serge began to appear in more and more places during their sojourn (boat outings, tours, etc.) Antoine noticed this, but thought of Serge’s attraction to his wife as an annoyance that would end with his vacation. Ironically, the affair began shortly after their return. The normally sunny Astrid began crying more, and Antoine believed her simple explanations rather than consider the possibility that his marriage was about to end.
The following day, Mélanie’s best friend Valerie arrives, with her husband, dog and small child in tow. As Valerie and her husband visit with Mel, Antoine is stuck outside with the petulant child and the hyperactive, uncooperative dog. Antoine’s ineffective attempts to control both of them make him a spectacle for the hospital workers, who watch from the windows. Among them is Angèle, who is highly amused by the harried Antoine. When Valerie returns, she offers to stay for a few days so that Antoine can return to work and take a break from looking after his sister. Antoine agrees, packs his bag, and must leave with Valerie’s family without getting the chance to talk to Angèle, who fortunately texts him later. He arrives at his home and finds himself looking through his kids’ rooms. In his youngest son’s room he discovers a family tree project for school that has no information about his mother. As he fills in Clarisse’s information on Lucas’s family tree, he realizes how little he has shared with his children about his mother.
Antoine cannot bear the thought of a night alone, so he is joined by his Dionysian friend, Emmanuel. As they prepare and eat dinner together, Antoine wonders about Mel’s secret and tells Emmanuel of his passionate night with Angèle. Emmanuel notices that Antoine hasn’t looked this happy in years.
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At the end of a busy week, Antoine goes to visit his father. He wants exercise, so he decides to take on the longish walk to the house he grew up in. Along the way, he receives a call from Rabagny, a difficult client who is unhappy with the slow progress on a day care center due to open at the end of the summer. He is relieved to hear continued reports from Valerie about Mel’s progress, and he has also been receiving texts from Angèle. As he approaches his moneyed old neighborhood, he notes the numerous changes in the decades since he has lived there, mostly commercial ones. Ignoring more irate messages from Rabagny, he heads up his old street to his father’s house.
After exchanging pleasantries with an overtanned Regine, Antoine is greeted by his father. Josephine stops in briefly and surreptitiously repays Antoine half the amount she owes him. Once again, Antoine is struck by how aged and frail his father appears since his retirement. It is a stark contrast to the powerful, terrifying political attorney he was for most of his career, which ignited due to his role in bringing down a major government scandal shortly before Clarisse’s passing. As his father blathers, Antoine is unable to focus because he sees the memory of his mother everywhere he looks.
When Antoine gets home, his three children are already there, along with Margaux’s best friend, Pauline. Antoine notices Pauline’s development and worries that Margaux will soon be changing too. After a quiet dinner, the kids bury themselves in their electronic devices in their respective rooms. When Antoine awakens in the middle of the night, he smells cigarette coming from his daughter’s room. When he confronts Margaux and Pauline, Margaux points out his own smoking and slams the door in his face. Antoine is once again saddened by his own ineffective parenting and the distance between him and his kids.
Several weeks later, Antoine visits Mel after a particularly bad week involving more fights with Rabagny and his kids heading back to school. He meets Angèle in the morgue and the two agree to hook up after she finishes work. He stops by Mel’s room and is relieved to find her much healthier and eager to return home. In a private conference, Dr. Besson inquires after Antoine’s father, something that has happened several times. Antoine gets her to admit that she thinks his father is ill, but she will not disclose what the nature of the illness might be. Antoine resolves to talk to Regine into getting Francois to a doctor.
Antoine returns to the morgue as Angèle is finishing up; when he inquires about her work, she offers to show him one of her patients. As she describes the embalming process of an elderly gentleman, Antoine reflects on his own mother’s death, and his inability to open his eyes and look at her in the morgue. He asks Angèle how she can do such unpleasant work and she tells him that her father committed suicide by handgun when she was a teenager. She was the only one who saw the body before the mortician worked on him and she realized how important it was to give people the best version of their loved one to say goodbye to. As Angèle showers, Antoine thinks excitedly about their impending date and realizes this is the first happiness he has known in a long time.
In mid-September, Antoine brings Mel home to her apartment in Paris, where she will undergo at-home physiotherapy for several months. She still seems frail, and Antoine is reluctant to ask her about their unfinished conversation in the car in the moments before the accident. She notices his happier demeanor, which is due to all of the texts, phone calls, and sexy webcam chats with Angèle.
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While searching for a bottle of wine in his cellar, Antoine comes across an old photo album. He is especially moved to see pictures from his childhood, including ones of Clarisse. He comes across the plane ticket from the flight when he first met Astrid; they were attempting to land in a particularly violent storm, and she grabbed his hand for reassurance. He also remembers one of their first vacations as a married couple. They traveled to San Francisco and visited the famous prison, Alcatraz. Antoine muses that for much of his life, he has felt like a prisoner.
It is a few weeks before Christmas, and the fall has flown by. Arno is in danger of being expelled from school and Margaux has become increasingly withdrawn. The long-distance relationship with Angèle has had a positive effect on Antoine: he lost weight, bought new clothes and stopped being so hard on himself. While Astrid and Serge are in Tokyo on a business trip, Antoine receives a panicked call from Margaux: her best friend, Pauline, has died unexpectedly during gym class. Antoine brings the unresponsive Margaux home and tries to comfort her. When she begins yelling, Antoine suggests they call her mother, and Margaux criticizes Antoine for his lame parenting and tells him she hates him. Antoine calls Astrid and hands the phone over to Margaux, who has barricaded herself in her room. Arno and Lucas arrive; when Antoine breaks down after a call from Pauline’s father, the boys embrace him.
In the middle of the night, Antoine looks through Pauline’s things, unable to fathom that the young girl is dead. He makes a late-night call to Angèle, who offers to come be with him. The next morning, he looks in Margaux’s room and sees blood stains on her sheets; she had her first period in the night. Panicked about how to handle this, Antoine is about to call Mel for advice when Suzanne, Pauline’s mother, arrives to collect her things. A distraught Margaux begs her for answers and Suzanne reveals that Pauline had an undiagnosed heart condition; she comforts Margaux despite her own considerable grief. As she leaves with Pauline’s things, Antoine marvels at her strength.
Antoine takes Margaux to the morgue to say goodbye to Pauline. At first, she wants to be alone with her, but quickly calls for her father. Antoine comforts her and she leaves him alone with Pauline. Antoine cannot help thinking of Margaux in Pauline’s place.
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Margaux stays with Suzanne and Patrick, Pauline’s parents, to help her grieve. As a weary Antoine returns home, he receives an urgent message from his sister, who demands to see him write away. Mélanie expresses sympathy about Pauline and then admits that she remembered what she was going to say right before the crash. The night of her birthday party, Mélanie got up for a drink of water and stopped by her mother’s room. In it she saw her mother in bed with someone who is not her father (presumably the lover previously mentioned in Clarisse’s writings). Antoine is shocked when Mélanie reveals that their mother was in bed with another woman. Since Mel was only six, she only vaguely remembers what she looked like. The two vow to unearth the truth about their mother, which means confronting their aged grandmother, Blanche.
With Margaux still staying with Patrick and Suzanne (who seem to need her as much as she needs them) and Arno at a party, Antoine finds himself alone with Lucas. The boy is shaken by Pauline’s death and Antoine tries his best to cheer him up, noting to himself how much more open and agreeable Lucas is than his teenage siblings. When he puts Lucas to bed, he asks Antoine to leave the hall light on, something he hasn’t done since he was a young child.
In the middle of the night, the police call Antoine and tell him that Arno has been arrested at a party of someone he didn’t even know. The party got out of hand, the girl’s house was vandalized, and Arno was one of the few who was too drunk to make a getaway when the police arrived. Antoine takes Arno home without speaking a single word to him. When confronted by Antoine and Mel (who came over to look after Lucas), Arno mouths off and Antoine slaps him firmly in the face. Mel shuttles Arno off to bed and is both frightened and impressed by Antoine’s anger (which reminds her of that of her father). The next day, with Mel and Lucas out for breakfast, Arno attempts to confront his father about his ongoing silence. Just then, Angèle arrives and takes Antoine to his bedroom, leaving a gobsmacked Arno behind.
After making love, Angèle advises Antoine about the various problems that have erupted in his life. Her expertise in death proves helpful and she recommends counseling for Margaux. She applauds Antoine for taking a firm hand with Arno, but he needs to do it consistently (and not through physical means). When he reveals his plan to talk to Blanche about Clarisse’s secret, Angèle asks him why he won’t talk to his father, forcing him to confront the dysfunctional relationship which Antoine has allowed Francois to dominate. Mel, Margaux, and Arno all warm quickly to Angèle, but Lucas is obviously not comfortable with another woman spending time with his father. When she leaves at the end of the day, Antoine misses her terribly.
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The day before Pauline’s funeral, Antoine meets with Xavier Parimbert, a wealthy feng shui expert. Parimbert turns out to be the father-in-law of Rabagny, the hothead who gave Antoine such a difficult time on the daycare center project. Ironically, Parimbert selected Antoine for this new project not only for his architectural prowess, but for his ability to stand up to Rabagny (whom Antoine finally told off after one disagreeable rant too many). For a handsome fee, Antoine is to build a Think Dome in Parimbert’s office complex. The new-agey seriousness of Parimbert’s intentions almost gives Antoine his first laugh since Pauline’s passing.
The entire family travels to the countryside for Pauline’s funeral. The kids are remarkably free of their electronic necessities and Astrid is highly emotional (not to mention jetlagged from her hasty return from Tokyo). The service is full of children, mostly Pauline’s classmates, and Antoine is surprised when Margaux is called up to recite an Auden poem as part of the service. After the burial, and the get-together at Patrick and Suzanne’s country house, the family’s trip home is delayed by an accident involving a truck full of animal remains; the entire family is shaken by the ghastly sights and smells. When they finally make it to Astrid’s house, Antoine accepts her invitation to stay for dinner.
After dinner, the kids go to bed and Antoine catches Astrid up on Arno’s arrest and Margaux’s entrance into womanhood. Although Serge has not come up in conversation, his absence is noticeable. Astrid finally admits that he asked for some time apart from her and is staying with his parents. When Astrid makes a pass at Antoine, he comforts her, but declines; he is shocked to realize he is no longer in love with her. Upstairs, she asks him to stay until she falls asleep; when an alarm wakens them, Antoine realized he too has fallen asleep. Astrid begins to make love to him, and though it is against his better judgment, Antoine complies. As he leaves, he is instantly filled with regret.
Christmas proves to be a success as the whole family participates (minus Serge, who is once again living with Astrid, but in an ill-defined, shaky relationship). Astrid and Antoine ponder over what to do about their kids: Margaux has retreated further and refused therapy while Arno has been kicked out of his school for his role in the party crashing arrest. When Francois uncharacteristically invites Antoine over for a father-son dinner on Antoine’s birthday, he lies and says he has other plans. The lie ends up proving true when Antoine’s friends, Didier (a fellow architect), Helene, and Emmanuel throw Antoine a surprise birthday bash at Didier’s swank loft. In addition Mélanie has arranged for Angèle to come, and she delights the partygoers as much as Antoine. Antoine himself is in rare form and for once finds himself the life of the party, regaling all with stories about Arno (complete with dead-on impersonations) and the mercurial Parimbert and his Think Dome.
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Mélanie and Antoine go to see their aged grandmother, Blanche, hoping to find answers about their mother. After Mélanie secretly snoops around the house with no luck, the two question Gaspard, the son of Blanche’s maid, who now runs the apartment building and helps look after the old woman. When Gaspard lets slip that he saw their mother carried out on a stretcher, the two realize she must have died in Blanche’s house, not her own. They demand answers, and Gaspard insists they retire to his room on the sixth floor to discuss it.
Gaspard was fifteen when Clarisse died; she had always been kind to Gaspard and taken an interest in him, and he still feels affectionately towards her. Clarisse had turned up unexpectedly to see Blanche. Suddenly Odette, Gaspard’s mother, rushed into the kitchen and ordered him to call the doctor. Shortly thereafter, Clarisse was carried away and Gaspard was told never to speak of it again. Unsure whether Francois or Solange knows about this, the two demand to return to Blanche’s apartment.
Antoine and Mélanie are led into their grandmother’s dark bedroom. Blanche seems barely conscious, but Mélanie bluntly questions her about the day their mother died. Suddenly, Blanche’s eyes open and meet Antoine’s in a silent standoff. Antoine realizes she will tell them nothing but refuses to back down. Eventually, Blanche rings for the nurse, dismissing them without saying a word.
Antoine deals with Parimbert’s unctuous assistant; he has found the project creatively challenging but dislikes dealing with the assistant. After using his newfound assertiveness to dismiss her, Antoine receives a call from Mélanie that Blanche has died. With Arno now in boarding school, Antoine takes Lucas and Margaux over to his fathers’ house that evening. Francois has already retired to bed, and a drunken Regine complains of Blanche and Solange’s disdain for her. As Josephine drags her mother to bed, Antoine notices that Mel feels sad about Blanche’s death and he does not.
Later that night, Antoine stops by Blanche’s apartments to see her body and pay his respects. His aunt, Solange, reveals to him that his father has cancer (and seems to derive satisfaction from Antoine’s ignorance). On his way out, Gaspard meets him to tell him more about his mother’s passing. He remembered that a few weeks after she died a white-blonde American woman came to the apartment and got into a screaming match with Blanche. Gaspard gives Antoine a decades-old invoice from a private investigation company that Blanche had hired to follow Clarisse and the mysterious American woman.
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Antoine goes to an exhausting meeting with Parimbert about the nearly completed Think Dome; during the visit, Rabagny appears and offers Antoine a contract to take his Think Dome layout global. After the meeting, Antoine drives to the home of Laurence Dardel, a female doctor whose father was the doctor who was called when Clarisse died. During a tense exchange, Laurence reveals that she knows Francois has cancer because he first developed it in 1982. Like Dr. Besson, she can tell it has come back by his appearance. Antoine demands to see his mother’s medical record and death certificate, which Laurence seems reluctant to provide. She promises to call Antoine when she locates the file.
Antoine stops by the private investigation agency that has all of the records of the agency that investigated his mother. Given the passing of time and with proof of his identity, Antoine is allowed to take the file.
In his apartment, Antoine reads the dossier and thumbs through the pictures. His mother’s lover was an American gallerist named June Ashby, who made periodic visits to France. Margaux discovers Antoine reading through the file, and he decides to be honest with her about the secret. This openness brings out a small amount of tenderness from Margaux. After she goes to bed, Antoine finds the note that his mother left under her lover’s door.
Online, Antoine researches June Ashby and discovers that she was a lesbian activist who died in 1989. He is sad to have reached another dead end, but wonders if June’s associate, Donna, might know anything. That night, he tries to call Angèle, but cannot reach her. He is jealous that she sees other men, even though he has not told her of his one-night stand with Astrid. He wonders if a permanent relationship between them would even be possible, given their differences.
The entire Rey family attends Blanche’s funeral, which is particularly hard for Margaux who is still recovering from Pauline’s loss. Conversely, relations between Antoine and Arno have warmed, as the boy appears to be benefitting from the structured environment of his boarding school. At the reception afterwards, Antoine tries to question his aunt, Solange, who makes it clear she does not want to discuss his mother or June Ashby. Laurence Dardel arrives at the reception, and discreetly passes Antoine a copy of his mother’s medical file. In the restroom, Antoine leafs through the medical file, which confirms that his mother died of an aneurysm at Blanche’s apartment, not at home. Suddenly, Mel bursts in and confronts Antoine about all of the research he has been doing without telling her; she surprises Antoine by saying that she does not want to know what information he finds out and she does not want him to ask their father about it. She then tells him that Francois is dying of stomach cancer. Antoine is angry that he is the only person Francois hasn’t told, but Mel points out that he is equally responsible for the bad relations with Francois. At home, Antoine calls Donna in New York, determined to find out more about June and his mother; she tells him that his mother was the love of June’s life.
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Antoine receives a letter from Donna, which includes some photographs and correspondence between Clarisse and June. It also includes a Super 8 reel, which Antoine has converted to a DVD, but not watched. While taking the train to see Angèle, the locomotive strikes something and stops abruptly. When he texts Angèle about the delay, she responds that it was most likely a suicide and not “technical difficulties.” Two ticket agents confirm the suicide: a woman knelt on the tracks as if praying and the high-speed train could not stop in time. They acknowledge that the messy cleanup means they will be stranded there for several hours.
In the dining car, Antoine shares a drink with an elderly Englishwoman who reveals ironically that she was on her way to a funeral. As they struck the suicidal woman, she was leafing through a book looking for a poem to read at her friend’s funeral—hoping to find one that was hopeful rather than morbid. At Antoine’s prompting, she reads the poem to the entire dining car. A comely young woman who was particularly shaken by the incident joins them. Antoine notes that, among other things, this women’s beauty has more power than all of the death that has surrounded him in the past year.
When Antoine finally arrives at Angèle’s place, they make passionate love, and Angèle tells Antoine that part of her attraction to him is that he presents a buttoned-up exterior that hides a sexually voracious core. As they settle in for the night, Angèle asks Antoine to tell him about his mother; she tells him to tell it in the third person, as if it were a “once upon a time” story. As he relays the story to her, he is able to fill in some of the gaps in the research he has uncovered. June and Clarisse met in the summer of 1972 in Noirmoutier, fell in love, and began an affair. Blanche found out about it and ordered her to stop. When Blanche intercepted a note intended for June, she realized Clarisse wasn’t done with the affair and hired a private detective. Desperate to protect the Rey family name, Blanche did not disclose her findings to Robert (her husband) or Francois. When June found out about the private detective, Clarisse went to Blanche’s house in early 1974 to confront her and profess her desire to start a new family with June and the children. As Antoine reaches the part of the story where his mother dies, he stops. He pictures her as the woman kneeling in front of the train.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 588
As Antoine continues the story, a different version of the events plays out. Antoine imagines the confrontation between Blanche and Clarisse escalating. When Blanche tries to prevent Clarisse from leaving, they struggle, and Clarisse falls and strikes her head on the corner of a table. Dr. Dardel is called and counsels Blanche to concoct the aneurysm story. Angèle asks if it is the truth, and Antoine admits it is his best guess. A few weeks earlier, had visited his father, determined to have it out with him about his illness and find out what he knew of the affair; however, when he sees his dissipated, sickly father he finds he cannot ask him, nor can he tell him he loves him. The two part in silence once again, leaving Antoine to wonder what turned his once-doting father into the stern disciplinarian of his later years.
The next morning, Antoine finds Angèle at her computer with his mother’s medical file open. She has been up most of the night and has come up with a variation on Antoine’s version of the story. She noticed in the file that Clarisse had been having migraines for a while and was treated by Dr. Dardel for a severe one about a week before she died. Some of the symptoms listed are consistent with an impending aneurysm; however, Dr. Dardel did not recommend hospitalization. Angèle imagines a sick-feeling Clarisse ignoring her discomfort to go and confront Blanche, having the aneurysm during the confrontation, and perhaps even striking her head on the table. When Dardel is called, he realizes his misdiagnosis and presents the aneurysm story as a cover for the head trauma (which probably had little effect, since Clarisse was most likely dead before she hit the table). Angèle compares the situation to her own after her father’s suicide: he will have to learn to live with an incomplete understanding of what happened.
Angèle surprises Antoine with a trip on her motorcycle, which turns out to be to Noirmoutier. The arrive just as the tide is starting to cover the Gois, but instead of slowing down, Angèle speeds across it, sending water everywhere as the road is covered behind them. At the beach, they wonder if they might have been at Noirmoutier at the same time as children. Angèle sees Antoine stewing about the happenstances in life, both his and those of his mother, and again tells him to stop. She mentions that dealing with patients who had committed suicide helped her realize that knowledge wouldn’t make her own father come back—he would still be gone.
When they return to Angèle’s house, Antoine remembers that he has not yet watched the DVD. Angèle leaves him alone to see it; he puts it in and watches it over and over again. The film, taken by June, shows images of his mother at the Plages and walking along the Gois. He is struck by her beauty and notes that in some of the footage, he was probably just out of the camera’s frame building sandcastles on the beach. He sees genuine love and happiness in his mother’s eyes and in the last image, she kisses her hand and touches the lens of the camera. He joins Angèle outside and wonders about their future together. He doesn’t know if she would ever settle down, but he hopes that she might. Either way, he feels healed by her.
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