Translated from the French, Helene Gremillon's engaging and unusual debut novel 'The Confidant' is set in two time frames: one story set in the mid 1970s, and the other set in the 1930s-1940s. In 1975 we meet Camille, who lives and works in Paris as a book editor, and we are first introduced to her shortly after the premature death of her mother. Among the letters of condolence she receives, Camille is surprised to find a long, handwritten letter from someone called Louis, who begins by telling Camille the story of his relationship with a young girl called Annie which started in the years leading up to the Second World War. The letter ends after several pages but Camille feels there is a lot more to Louis and Annie's story, and she is not wrong, because exactly one week after the first letter, Camille receives a second letter containing the next instalment, and the same thing happens the following week. Camille does not know any of the people mentioned in the letters and is intrigued, but then as the letters keep coming, and she gets drawn further into Louis' and Annie's story, Camille realizes that she is not only intrigued, but also just a little frightened.
We learn from the letters sent to Camille that Louis and Annie first become friendly as children living in the same village and going to the same school, growing closer as they become older. However, when they are teenagers, a young married, childless couple, Monsieur and Madame M, move into the chateau near to their homes, and when Madame M and Annie become very friendly, Louis feels rather excluded. As Annie and Madame M's intimacy grows, Madame M confides a secret to Annie and, in consequence, they decide to carry out a deception (which I shall not reveal in case I spoil the story for prospective readers) which will have life changing and far reaching consequences for all involved. But what does all of this have to do with Camille?
This is an engaging and rather absorbing story that pulls you in from the first few pages and one that is full of passion and jealousy, love and betrayal, and about how secrets from the past do not always remain buried there. Each of the main characters in the story has the chance to tell their version of events to the reader in first person narrated sections, and it was interesting to hear the same story being told from different perspectives. Overall I found this novel an enjoyable read and finished it in one sitting - however, if I am entirely honest, I should mention that I found the plot rather implausible in some places and a little predictable in others and I felt the writing was rather over dramatic at times. That said, Helene Gremillon is a stylish storyteller and her debut novel does have a charm of its own. I found this an entertaining and very Gallic read with a rather unusual ending - all of which has aroused my interest in this new French author and will encourage me to look out for her next novel to see how her writing develops.