Bedford's sequel to "A Favorite of the Gods" again takes place in that charmed era "between the wars," when movement between countries was easy, artists, writers and scholars congregated in a tourist-free South of France, and one seemed able to live well on pennies. The story opens with the 17 year-old Flavia being left quite alone in St. Jean, as her mother goes off with her fiance (as soon as he gets divorced, that is) and the family's faithful maid returns to Italy. Flavia lives a solitary, regimented life of study for university exams until taken under the wing of the wecoming Therese, who presides over a home with her children, a famous, tempermental artist-husband, and numerous unidentified lovers. Flavia soon becomes one of these, slowly realizizng that she prefers women over men, although it is "understood" that given her age she has had no experience of the opposite sex.
All this is portrayed by Bedford as perfectly innocent and normal, until the malicious Andree arrives on the scene. Flavia falls hard, not realizing who Andree really is, and none of her new found friends sees fit to enlighten her. In a new forward, Bedford asks whether Flavia really knew in her heart, and chose to ignore her instincts. Bedford readily admits that it may seem improbable that Flavia wouldn't find out, but nevertheless this is the moral dilemma she presents.
I won't give anything else away--all this is more or less described in the forward--but what is disturbing about this tale is the weight of responsibility for her actions that all place squarely on Flavia's shoulders. I saw the story quite differently. Flavia is an odd mix of sophistication and innocence, left on her own, prey to all. Why is not Therese responsible for seducing her? Why isn't Andree judged to be fully responsible?
I won't say more, but I found my owm moral compass disturbed as I read Bedford's novel. She's a beautiful writer; the more autobiographical the story, the better she is. But a reader needs to shed his or her 21st century notions of how teenagers should be protected (or at least how one would like to protect them) and what the responsibility of adults is, to enter fully into the story.