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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

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Cecile is the narrator. She's a seventeen-year-old girl who lives a very flighty and unrestricted life. She dates the friends of her father. In the summer, she goes with her father and his mistress to a summer home. When Anne, a friend of her mother's who is the same age as her father, comes to visit and falls in love with her father, she feels her way of life is under attack. She hatches a plan to pretend that Cyril and Elsa are together. When it works and Anne runs off, she regrets it immediately. She mourns Anne with her father but goes back to the way she used to live. In the end, she says that sometimes when things are quiet, she thinks of Anne and feels sadness.

Raymond is Cecile's widowed father and lives a carefree life. Cecile says he tends to change girlfriends every six months. She says he's a good father who's admired by women and good at business. He lets Cecile do basically anything she wants until Anne encourages him to be more strict. He is jealous that Cyril has been with his daughter and his ex-mistress, so he goes after Elsa when he thinks she's with the younger man. He's sad at the loss of Anne but eventually returns to his old lifestyle.

Elsa Mackenbourg is Raymond's girlfriend. She has red hair and is much younger than Raymond. Cecile sees her as simple and friendly. She's as flighty as Raymond and Cecile. She goes with them to the house on the Mediterranean; when she's out on the beach, her skin burns and then peels. She agrees to pretend to be with Cyril to entice Raymond back to her.

Anne Larsen is a friend of Cecile's deceased mother. She comes to visit Cecile and Raymond at the beach house. She falls in love with Raymond, and they decide to be together. In the meantime, she counsels Cecile on how to be more grown up and responsible. She tells her to work. She questions her free time. She tells her she can't see Cyril anymore when she finds them embracing. Her influence makes Raymond a more involved father; he agrees with Anne's assessments. When Anne finds Raymond and Elsa kissing in the woods, she drives away from the house and goes over the edge of a cliff. A nurse tells Cecile that there have been many accidents there, but it's possible that she committed suicide.

Cyril is a young man in his twenties that Cecile meets on vacation. He's a law student spending the summer with his mother. He's kind and agreeable; he does whatever Cecile wants. Cyril asks Cecile to marry him and is last seen at the end trying to connect with her as she realizes she doesn't really love him. Cecile says that she feels like he has a protective nature.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331


Cécile (say-SEEL), the narrator, a seventeen-year-old girl who is spending the summer in the south of France with her father and his mistress. Just prior to the vacation, she had failed her baccalauréat, the state exam that ends the French secondary school cycle and symbolizes a degree of social as well as academic respectability for the student who passes it.


Raymond, the narrator’s father, a seductive, forty-year-old widower whose overwhelming charm appears alternately as a strength and a weakness. Cécile loves her father precisely for those qualities that lead him to manipulate, and be manipulated by, women: his emphasis on physical beauty (his own and other people’s) and his constant desire to seek validation in the love and admiration of others.

Elsa Mackenbourg

Elsa Mackenbourg, Raymond’s mistress, a pale, red-haired woman who lives off of her beauty. Neither a fashion model nor a prostitute, she occupies a gray area between respectability and disrepute. She clearly is the intellectual inferior of the other characters in the novel, especially Anne Larsen.

Anne Larsen

Anne Larsen, whose arrival at the summer house at the beginning of the novel sets the plot into motion. When Cécile’s mother died fifteen years earlier, her father entrusted her to Anne, who was one of the mother’s closest friends. As a result, Anne had an enormous impact on Cécile’s early childhood, nurturing in her an admiration for cultural sophistication and understated elegance (she works in the fashion industry). She presents a physical contrast (older, darker) as well as an intellectual and spiritual contrast to Elsa.


Cyril, a twenty-six-year-old law student who initiates an innocent summer romance with Cécile, then falls in love with her. Although he is substantially older than Cécile and seduces her rather forcefully into losing her virginity, there is a strong sense that she is superior to him in many respects: more intelligent, a better strategist, and less sentimental.