Paris, 1975. Camille sifts through letters of condolence after her mother's death when a strange, handwritten missive stops her short. At first she believes she received it by mistake. But then, a new letter arrives each week from a mysterious stranger, Louis, who seems intent on recounting the story of his first love, Annie. They were separated in the years before World War II when Annie befriended a wealthy, barren couple and fell victim to a merciless plot just as German troops arrive in Paris. But also awaiting Camille's discovery is the other side of the story, which will call into question Annie's innocence and reveal the devastating consequences of jealousy and revenge. As Camille reads on, she begins to realize that her own life may be the next chapter in this tragic story.
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|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Reading Group Guide
“Annie has always been a part of my life. I was two years old, just a few days short of my second birthday, when she was born. We lived in the same village—N.—and I often happened upon her when I wasn’t looking for her—at school, out on walks, at church (p. 7). ”
So begins the first letter that Camille unexpectedly receives from the mysterious Louis. Without explanation, the letters dive into a reminiscence of a lost childhood love and soon twist into a tale of jealousy, passion, and betrayal. Sharply observed and deeply affecting, Hélène Grémillon’s debut novel and international sensation, The Confidant, charts the lengths to which people can be driven by obsession and revenge.
As the letters arrive each week without fail, Camille’s initial puzzlement turns to curiosity: Who is Louis? Why is he compelled to write to her of his beloved Annie, a quiet, artistic teenager, and her bizarre friendship with the wealthy Madame M? Louis adores Annie and his heartache is profound as he writes of losing her to the private world inside Monsieur and Madame M’s home. The older woman, desperate for a child, makes a cruel and perverted request of Annie; Annie’s acceptance of that request, born of misguided affection and youthful innocence, has devastating consequences for both women. Yet Louis never stops loving Annie, and his letters detail her life in all its passion and its pain. Camille begins to live within the letters, escaping from her own life and into the world of Nazioccupied Paris and N., the unknown village. But as the pieces fall into place, Camille’s curiosity turns to fear that these letters are meant to reveal something of her past that she never could have imagined.
Hélène Grémillon has created a dual narrative that shifts seamlessly between Camille’s Paris of1975 and Louis’s war–torn France, and the characters—young and old, separated by more than thirtyfive years—are authentic and compelling. As Louis’s letters continue, Annie and Madame M begin to speak through him, sharing two very different sides of the tragic tale and revealing the complicated realities behind their story: the desperate love that inspired Madame M’s merciless actions, and the relentless determination beneath Annie’s quiet exterior.
The Confidant grabs hold and does not let go; the book’s success across the globe is evidence of its haunting appeal. Readers follow Camille as she untangles the knots of this complex, absorbing story and the painful psychological truths of its characters caught at the crossroad of desire and obligation, love and cruelty. The Confidant is a smart and intricately plotted novel of secrets kept and lies told that doesn’t reveal the full scope of its mystery until the very last line.
ABOUT HELENE GREMILLON
Hélène Grémillon worked in advertising and journalism before becoming a writer. Born in France, she currently lives in Paris with her family. This is her first novel.
A CONVERSATION WITH HELENE GREMILLON
Q. You preface the novel with a few words by Federico Garcia Lorca: “The past wears / its armoured breastplate / and blocks its ears / with the cotton of the wind. / No one will ever be able to / tear its secret away.” What does that quote mean to you?
First of all, I love epigraphs. I always read them before buying a book; for me, that’s the first step. It’s one of my criteria in deciding what to read. I can’t imagine writing one without this soft preamble. That’s why it’s so important, and difficult to choose, but also fun, like a game. I love that moment. How did I choose this particular one? While I was writing, I put aside some sentences that I encountered along the way (in newspapers, in books, in theater, in life . . .), sentences which seemed to talk about my book, my story. And when I finished The Confidant, I reread all of them and immediately this one stuck out. It’s the quintessence of the whole book.
Q. The Confidant has been translated into many languages. Do you feel that each culture will respond to the novel differently? For example, would the section of the novel that takes place in Nazi–occupied Paris resonate in a different way to a French reader than to an American?
Of course the book will be taken in different ways in different countries. But as far as the setting goes, The Confidant is not a historical novel. The story itself is what is important; the rest is only context, not the main focus. My goal is for readers to be carried away by the characters and what happens to them.
Q. Louis and Camille’s narratives are both complex and detailed. Tell us about how you approached writing and structuring the novel’s twin stories.
At the beginning, I wanted to work on the relationship between the different points of view in the love story. So I wrote the perspective of each character on separate sheets of paper and in different color pens. And after that, I put them together, like a puzzle.
Q. Elisabeth’s struggle to be a mother and Annie’s struggle to be with her child are realistic and emotionally searing. Did your own experiences as a mother play into these parts of the story? How difficult was it to inhabit those moments?
This did not really come from my own experience because it’s not my story at all. I invented it, from start to finish. But obviously, because I am a mother, it helped me to understand my characters more and put myself in their shoes.
Q. One of the strengths of The Confidant is its attention to detail, in both its language and its historical elements. Did you do a great deal of research into World War II and the Nazi occupation?
I read a lot. I can’t say how many books I read and underlined in all directions . . . I was looking for something picturesque, not something that anyone who knows a little bit about the period would know. I tried to find an original angle. Following that, the real challenge is to find just the right element needed to say something specific about my characters (not just to use the element to use the element).
Q. You’ve had so much success with this first novel. Does the public acclaim and attention affect your process of writing a second book?
It does, but in different ways. First, I have had to travel a lot for the promotion of the book, and even if that was a really great moment, it also leaves less time for writing and constantly brings me back to the story of The Confidant, taking me out of the new story I am writing. On a different note, it has encouraged me and given me more motivation for writing.
Q. Camille is forced to revise her understanding of her family and therefore her understanding of herself. Like Camille, have you ever had an experience that has entirely shifted your way of thinking or being?
Every day. Obviously not as important as for Camille, but each day, I try to put myself in the place of someone I don’t understand and I try to understand them—how they work, why they think the way they do.
Q. The last few pages of the novel are particularly arresting and uniquely presented, moving from prose to poetry. It’s a bold decision to shift storytelling techniques at the end of the novel. Why did you make this choice?
Because it came to me exactly that way. Very often when I write, I have doubts. But when things are very clear to me, I keep them, otherwise I will never finish a book. I’ll live my whole life wondering if I should change something else. In my mind I heard these sentences, like a song or a film narrative. When I was writing this passage, I kept thinking about the film The Usual Suspects, where at the end all of the different stories come together and reveal what really happened. Poetry was what I found to put rhythm to the revelation.
Camille is sifting through letters of condolence after her mother's death when she notices a handwritten letter from someone she does not know, and every Tuesday that follows she receives another one from a man called Louis who wants to tell her a secret story - the story of his love for Annie from whom he was separated on the outbreak of the war, and as the story progresses Camille feels too that she is involved in this story. A story of love, and jealousy and revenge set as the Nazi troops arrive in Paris. It was not a book I really loved. An OK read.
This story is spellbinding in one way, sad in another and, of course a page-turner. Our book club is discussing it and we all agree. Well worth the time. Something different as well as something that may hit close to home.
I won a free ARC copy through a giveaway. I really enjoyed this book. The characters were so well done. Each complex with their own voice that shines through. While you won't agree with their decisions you can see their reasoning and how well it fits with who they are. All of them extract a response, several responses usually, and nothing is simple. I didn't have a problem at all with the speed or pacing. I was so wrapped up in story. It really is riveting. The plot twists and turns leaving your stomach in knots. I just couldn't put it down. While I'm sure there are other books along the same plot idea this book just does it so well. Even if it sounds contrived and over done and you think you know where the story is going before it starts, I still recommend it. I highly recommend it for everyone really. If it doesn't surprise you, it will at least draw you in and entertain you. Now it's an easy read but it's not light. It deals with heavy topics with a backdrop of a very depressing and terrifying time. It's a drama. A small scale drama where things just cascade out of control. There's so much information given in the blurb so you know what you're heading into yet that knowledge won't spoil the journey at all. I liked the resolution. There were minor issues with the writing where I had to re-read to get it but I think that's mostly due to translation. I actually liked the writing for the most part. I like how the typeface changed for each character and didn't have a problem remembering who was narrating. The ending paragraphs were very moving. I sat for several seconds just feeling it. Then my brain kick it when I realized there was no afterword and it was really the end of the book. That just irritated me. It was just left hanging on what happens next. I don't expect nor want the next 20 years, how about just the next day? Seriously, after the roller-coaster of ride I went though the track stops in the middle of nowhere leaving me to hike the rest of the way. I feel owed to the confrontation between Camille and the remaining parties of this sordid affair. Without this, I'm not satisfied and that's the main reason why this book is 4 stars instead of 5. I loved the book, I just hate lose ends.