Paul and Claire Lohman are meeting Paul’s brother Serge and Serge’s wife Babette at an expensive restaurant. The evening starts off normally enough, but it becomes clear that the meeting is more than just a social engagement. The teenage sons of the two couples have been caught on CCTV, committing a horrific offence, and while they have not yet been publicly identified, their parents have recognised their children as the perpetrators, and have met to decide what to do. Serge is concerned about the effect it will have on his own future, as he is a popular candidate to be the next Prime Minister, and all four are concerned about the futures of their sons.
The premise of this book fascinated me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I felt that some parts were somewhat unrealistic. The story is narrated by Paul, who, it becomes clear, has significant anger management problems, which may be genetic, and which he may have passed on to their son Michel. As he described the restaurant with disdain (understandable at times), he also described the events that had led up to the discovery of his son’s crime, and talks about things in the family’s past.
All four characters, with the possible exception of Babette, were to me, extremely unlikeable. Initially I liked Claire a lot, but towards the end of the book her actions become perhaps unbelievable, and certainly inexcusable. Neither she nor Paul seems particularly horrified by their son’s actions, and in fact seem determined to cover them up and excuse them by any means necessary.
The over-riding thing that I noticed about the story was how many secrets the characters kept from each other, and even from the reader. This became clearer the further I read. The writing was insidious – it got under my skin and I genuinely found this book hard to put down; there is a kind of sinister undertone running through it. At first, the narration is innocuous – you might even say banal – with Paul talking about the things that irritated him about the pretentious restaurant they are eating in, but then things take a turn, and we are plunged into something much more shocking.
I’m not sure that the ending was one I liked, but it was certainly one that I didn’t expect, and it is a book which I continue to think about. I can imagine that it may polarise readers, but I would certainly recommend it.