When Hector Auvray and Valérie Beaulieu were both nineteen, they had a passionate summer romance, but after Hector left to try to gain the income and status to be worthy of Valérie, she succumbed to her own greed as well as that of her family, and married a wealthy but boring man, Gaetan Beaulieu. She sent Hector a “Dear John” letter, and they did not see each other since then. Now, ten years later, Hector is a well-known telekinetic performer, and Valérie is one of the “beautiful people” in Loisail, France.
They meet up again because of a chance encounter between Hector and Antonina (Nina) Beaulieu, Valérie’s cousin by marriage. Nina is staying with Gaetan and Valérie for the summer, and is attending parties (escorted by Valérie) in hopes of having an epic romance, like in the books she loves. For Valérie, taking Nina around was torture:
“She, Valérie Beaulieu, chained to this lump of a child who…. after three weeks in Loisail … had not [even] memorized the names, ranks, and particularities of the most important men and women of the city….”
She refers to Nina as Gaetan’s “nitwit cousin.” She also resents Gaetan’s affection for Nina. Why should he have devotion to anyone but her, and furthermore, provide for his family when he was not nearly as generous with Valérie’s family? The author writes:
“The limits of Valérie’s power and influence chafed her. She begrudged Antonina for this reason and also because she was by nature a jealous, possessive creature.”
And Valérie is not alone in her distaste for Nina. Nina was also spurned by “the beautiful ones” of society:
“They saw a determined spark lurking behind those hazel eyes that they classified as insolence, a lack of artifice that struck them as boorish, a capacity to remain unimpressed by the bric-a-brac on display that they deemed stupidity.”
Hector asks for and receives permission from Gaetan to court Nina, but he has a secret agenda: he wants to see Valérie again; he has remained obsessed with her:
“His love of Valérie was vicious. It gripped him utterly.”
Hector finally managed to get Valérie alone and confronted her about her betrayal when she ended their relationship and married Gaetan. She basically dismissed him by declaring they were just young and foolish, and her family would never have allowed her to wed (a nobody) like him. They needed Beaulieu’s money.
Still, Hector confessed, “I have not forgotten you, Valérie.” Valérie, even while spurning him, said if he wanted to make a fool of himself courting Nina he could be her guest. But secretly, she relished that he still wanted her.
Surprisingly, Hector found he was not entirely unhappy in the company of Nina. They shared a talent for telekinesis; Nina asked Hector to help her gain mastery of her ability, and he enjoyed teaching her. He also liked her lack of pretension and her honesty and optimism.
Gaetan finally sees the light about Valérie, as do the rest of the characters. They others also learn the truth about the past relationship between Valérie and Hector, of which they had been unaware. Although what happened next may seem predictable, the story was full of surprises and I had no idea how it would come out until the end was upon me.
Discussion: There are for the most part just three main characters, with one of them seeming mainly to serve (1) to highlight the basic emptiness of “the beautiful ones” (i.e., effete upper class) and (2) to act as a catalyst for the other characters to grow.
There is magic in this book (i.e., with respect to the telekinesis), but it is woven into the story almost as an aside. In any event, the magic seemed to me to be metaphorical, to illustrate the way people with determination can affect the world.
Evaluation: The appeal of this story crept up on me, crescendoing to an ending that was just lovely.
Published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers, 2017