I previously read An Unspoken Suspicion by Françoise Bourdin and fell in thrall with the way she writes. I’ve always know that I’m an unapologetic Italophile and Anglophile, but an I also a Francophile?
Similar to An Unspoken Suspicion, there is a stately family home operating as the symbolic core of the novel. Whereas Suspicion‘s focused on a family’s potential financial and emotional ruin, as exemplified by a house that needed more care and maintenance than it had, the home here symbolizes a man’s need to change, both himself and his family, through its half-finished renovation.
Louis is a forty-year-old successful composer and conductor, sharing his family’s estate with his sixteen-year-old son Frederic. Louis’ wife died ten years previously in a plane crash, and while Louis has had occasional dalliances with ladies, nothing has stuck. He wants, as he confesses to himself, to fall in love again.
When Frederic’s French teacher Francine meets with him to discuss Frederic’s increasingly poor performance in class, she is drawn immediately to Louis. She wants him, but yet she can’t quite get his attention. In fact, Frederic has to point out to his father that Francine is interested. They go on a date, have some hot headboard rockin’ (not that we get to read about it, but both characters repeatedly refer to their sexual chemistry), and voila! A romance is born.
If only Louis and Francine’s family members could be as happy as they are.
Romain, Francine’s son, is more supportive than others. He adores his mother, far preferring her company to that of his music-hating father, and wants her to be happy. But Frederic is another story. Yes, he nudged his father toward Francine, but he didn’t think it would go this far. Frederic’s jealousy is almost physical in its intensity, and even he knows it’s somewhat ridiculous. Yet he can’t stop.
It doesn’t help that he detests Romain, largely due to the two boys liking the same girl. Frederic also isn’t too thrilled that Romain and Louis bond over music.
But this is NOTHING compared to the animus Louis’ twin sister Alix has for his new love. Alix positively detests Francine, sight unseen, and sets out to make sure her brother wises up before it’s too late.
The kernel of the novel centers on Francine and Louis’ relationship. Can two forty-year-olds forge a true, loving partnership when their kids don’t get along and a sibling constantly interferes?
Bourdin keeps us guessing. Louis and Francine will make strides, only to take a few steps back. It isn’t that Louis allows Alix to manipulate him; he knows what she’s doing and refuses to allow her that power over him. It’s more that he loves Frederic, and as the only parent in the boy’s life, he puts Frederic above all else. Sometimes I wanted to smack that kid upside the head, even as I understood why he felt the way he did. Bourdin does a fantastic job of making us sympathize with Frederic’s shifting feelings and frustrations.
Alix, on the other hand, receives no such empathy. She appears to have very little self-awareness, although everyone around her knows why she behaves as she does. Her and Louis’ younger sister Laura is finely tuned to Alix’s motivations, far more insightful than Alix herself. Alix’s boyfriend Tom is an object of sympathy, yet he frustrated me too. Why does he stick with Alix? Why keep coming back? She can’t be that good – wink wink – can she?
I enjoyed the story and the characters tremendously. If Louis’ quick attraction to Francine is not fully explained – we are led to believe that it’s largely sexual – I can forgive that because the characters are richly developed.
This is far more of a romance than An Unspoken Suspicion, but ultimately not as filling. It’s like a good meal: you enjoy it while you eat it, and afterwards you remember sensations more than details. I recall details from An Unspoken Suspicion. This one left me wondering what life will hold for Louis and Francine.