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This novel, set in Paris in the decade of the 2000's, is structured almost as a study of how marital stagnation and ennui can fuel a sudden risky, passionate response towards someone who unexpectedly appears in one's life with irresistible physical and intellectual presence - who represents a way out. The reader is drawn in by the series-of-snapshots construction of the book, requiring that a collection of recorded short scenes involving different pairings of characters - like brief acts in a play - be combined to form a finished novel.
The novel has a distinct upper middle-class vibe. The two leading characters are well-educated, highly refined, forty-something Anna, a psychiatrist, and Louise, a lawyer. Anna's husband is a noted surgeon and Louise's husband is a renowned scientist. Louise does not know Anna, but coincidentally it is Anna's psychoanalyst, Thomas, who has taken her breath away. In Anna's case, she has become totally infatuated by whimsical, lesser-known, writer, Yves.
The author captures so well the intoxication that overwhelms these connection-starved women. In a series of vignettes, the excitement, the simple, lusty pleasures, of the first few weeks of meeting are glimpsed. But there are sobering considerations when their thinking turns to the question of whether a new life with their lovers is possible. The past must be reassessed - is love truly gone. Can disrupting a family be justified? Can their lovers really meet their expectations, will they disappoint? Those considerations do have an impact in this story.
Two of the more poignant scenes are where the husbands first see or meet their rivals. Anna's husband secretly attends an address given by Yves, on, of all things, the meaning of "foreign," only to discover Anna in attendance in a front row seat. Louise's husband schedules a session with Thomas under a false name, which fools no one. The author also uses an inventive technique of splitting a few pages into columns to show simultaneous trains of thought on a particular matter.
The story is very compelling; Anna and Louise are sympathetically portrayed, though their shortcomings are not ignored. By design the story is presented in almost outline form - a definite "facts-only" motif. In that structure, much gets left out, such as any real feel for the husbands. But in relatively few brush strokes the author captures the emotional, irrational, unstoppable pull of desire once unleashed. The author's conclusion is hardly one that tragedy has occurred. It is more that desire is real and maybe for the health of the human psyche it must be fulfilled. There may be some broad social lessons there regarding monogamy and affairs.