The book is narrated by Lewis Little, a 13-year-old boy staying in Paris over the summer holidays whilst his mother, a translator, works on a book by Valentina Gavrilovich, a beautiful Russian author who writes popular Medeival romances.
Lewis and his mother stay in Valentina's spacious luxury apartment in the centre of Paris. Lewis kills time by taking Valentina's dog Sergei for walks, playing computer chess and reading. Lewis also develops a crush on Valentina, which grows as he turn's 14 and events escalate into full blown love.
One day Valentina dissapears mysteriously and Lewis sets his chess mind to unravelling the mystery and beating the police at finding her.The novel ends dramatically but I won't give it away in case you have not read it yet.
The novel's strong points are its evocation of a Parisian summer, its poetic, sparkling prose which succesfully transports; its luxurious theme, its occasional humour and as always with Rose Tremain a, sort of, deep symbolic poetry that opens, resonates and illuminates the readers understanding of the charcters and their emotions, and through them, the human condition in general.
It has been argued that Tremain failed in her ambitious attempt to successfully 'get under the skin' of an adolescent boy. Having been one myself I think this is too harsh a judgement. She understands male obsession very well and the narration is beleivable enough to work. Lewis's precocity is a little exagerated, perhaps. I found myself questioning whether a 13-14 year-old boy could be that wise or emotionally developed and thinking he would be rare individual, remebering how I and my peers behaved. Nevertheless, this did not spoil the story for me.
The novel's weekest point is its ending. It is almost as if Tremain lost her nerve. Once again I have to be careful or I will spoil it but all I will say is that it could have been 'better'.