A younger sister (we never learn her name) who lives in Paris sets out to visit her older sister, Claire Marie, who lives in Ville-d’Avray, a western suburb. The two grew up in Brussels, in a household dominated by a cold, authoritarian mother. The girls retreated into their own world, one where they lost themselves in imagination, recreating scenes from Wuthering Heights. Orson Welles, who played Mr. Rochester in the film, was given top billing. Those days are long past. While the physical distance between the two is small, their relationship is not close..
Claire Marie is married to Christian, a doctor, and they have one daughter Mélanie. The younger sister’s husband, Luc, dislikes Ville-d’Avray, and, after one visit proclaims, “Frankly, if I had to live all year round in Ville-d’Avray, I’d kill myself.” On a Sunday afternoon, the younger sister decides to take a drive, without Luc, to visit Claire Marie. She is unprepared for what transpires. “Are there ever any times when you dream of something else?” Claire Marie asks. “Does your life satisfy you?” While her sister responds that “everything is fine,” she knows that Luc is having an affair. Claire Marie’s questions bring her sister back to those days when they both thought that “schmaltzy romanticism” was possible.
Sitting in the garden, Claire Marie confesses that years ago she had “an encounter” with Marc Hermann, one of her husband’s patients. She was filling in for Christian’s receptionist when Hermann came in for an appointment. She noticed him noticing her, but thought nothing more about him. A month later, she was walking home with packages, when he pulled up alongside her and asked if she needed a ride. That one ride led to many others and then afternoons in various cafes and long walks around the Fausses-Reposes forest and the Corot Ponds. He told her he ran an import-export business and gave her one of his cards. He was from Hungary, but escaped because of the oppression under communism.
Meetings with Hermann began to take up large chunks of Clare Marie’s day. She often forgot to pick up Mélanie from school and Christian complained about late dinners and her many absences. While Hermann pressured her to come to his apartment, she never did and sex wasn’t involved. Several times, Claire Marie prepared to break it off, then relented. Why did she continue to see him? She had doubts about what he told her about himself. One day she visited the address on his business card. There was no indication that he had an office in the building, but she doesn’t investigate further.
Dominique Barbéris’ novel, A Sunday in Ville-d’Avray, is just that – two sisters having a heart to heart about something that happened in the past and what it might say about the present. The younger sister leaves to drive back to Paris mulling over what Claire Marie shared. Will that confession, that honesty, lead to her making changes in her own life? We can only imagine.
A Sunday in Ville-d’Avray
Translated from the French by John Cullen
Top Bigstock: Ville d’Avray pond old view, Paris surroundings. Created by Anastasi, published on L’Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 1858