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He had never had an apogee!
on 12 March 2012
We begin this remarkable and hugely enjoyable novel with Raoul, the young French roofer, contracted to replace the roof and hassled into a quicker job than is safe. The owners are Americans, Alan Sandler, who has a less than salubrious past in objects d'art from the Middle East, and his wife Lucy who is good at keeping these Languedoc peasants at their work. They've probably spent too much already on the house, but Alan wants a lawn, a cherry tree, and a pool to swim in. They have obligations elsewhere for much of the time and so they rent the house out for the summer to an English couple, Nick and Sarah Mallinson, and their three youngsters, Tammy (9), Alicia (7) and Beans (actually called Fulvia, but what she's full of is beans, aged 3). So far so utterly charming and innocent. Nick has a doctorate in History (oil in Africa), about which he knows more than most people, and is taking a sabbatical for the summer. Nick was married when he met Sarah - she was a student in his history group. Now he's married to her and his son by his first marriage, Jamie, is to appear later in the story.
The weather starts out colder than promised but the kids are enjoying themselves. There may be some faint intimations that matters may not continue to be so salubrious when the gardener Jean-Luc's preoccupations are tipped into the mixture. The Sandlers visit from time to time, hassling about the lawn (which is subjected to wreckage by the wild boars who live in surrounding woods). There is some faint worry about some of the portents and messages, that suggest the house has an older, deeper history, and wartime memories in the nearby village are still remarkably sharp.
This is a triple-toned book. On the surface is the innocence of the Mallinsons, their casual enjoyment of the holiday - what can possibly go wrong in such a delightful place? Then on the next level there are the American couple, whose involvement in the area has a slightly more troublesome feel to it; and then, at a deeper layer altogether, those who live in the village whose history during the war, and after, involves bitter rivalries and resonances that only the villagers properly understand. It is a sheer, though sometimes horrifically teasing, delight.