The book that really made Michele Robert famous: a lyrical, exquisitely written tale of family tensions in a Normandy village, of the dark legacy of World War II, and of cousin - or is it sibling? - rivalry. Roberts captures what life in 1950s rural France was like perfectly, and there are some beautiful descriptions of the family home, of food (always a Roberts strong point) and of the dramatic, imaginative world of the child. The Catholic themes in the book - Leonie rebels against Catholicism as a child because it stifles her, Therese tries to get approval from adults by aiming to become a saint - are also powerfully explored. There are some frustrating elements to the novel. We're left with an enormous amount of unanswered questions at the end: what exactly happened in the village during World War II? Are Therese and Leonie sisters or cousins and who was their father? Does Therese survive her violent action in the penultimate chapter? What was Antoinette so afraid of? One could have done with the book being slightly longer, so that more of these questions could have been explored. I was also slightly disappointed that the lively Leonie became a simple, rather bad-tempered housewife in middle-age (though this was compensated for by Therese becoming so much more sympathetic as an adult). However, these are small quibbles about a book that, whatever questions it doesn't answer, is a beautiful and thought-provoking read.
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