Short summary - Anatomy of a single divorce
For the first time, we meet the main characters of the novel, Alina and Louis Davermel, during their divorce proceedings. For twenty years they lived together, gave birth to four children, but at forty-four years old Louis decided to start a new life with young Odile, whom he had known for five years, and to leave his old, petty, grumpy and narrow-minded wife, who tormented him with constant hysterics and scandals.
Until the final decision of the court, Alina and her children remain to live in the house bought by Louis, and their father is allowed to communicate with them on the second and fourth Sunday of each month, and even on holidays: he has exactly half of all vacations at his disposal. Children in the family are of different ages and with different characters. Leon, the eldest son, is seventeen years old. This is a rather secretive, calm young man, who somehow benefits from the absence of his father in the house, since now he feels himself to be the master here. Agatha, a fifteen-year-old girl, took her mother's side in a dispute between father and mother and severely condemned her father's act. Thirteen-year-old Rose, outwardly a copy of her mother, worships her father and always takes his side. Guy at the beginning of the divorce proceedings is too young to have his own view of what is happening: he is only nine. When Louis takes the children with him, Alina is terribly jealous and, upon their return, takes out her anger at them.
The events of the novel span a seven-year period, and each significant turn in the development of the plot is highlighted with rigorous accuracy by the narrator, who communicates its specific date. In April 1966, six months after the start of the divorce proceedings, Louis informs Odile's relatives that in July she will become his wife. And so it happens. In early August, Louis takes his children to La Baule, the foothills where Odile is from, to introduce the children to his new wife. Odile, a twenty-year-old slender girl with long black hair and light eyes, shows maximum tact and patience when meeting. Children soon get used to their surroundings and feel quite comfortable. Only Agatha, her mother's ally, uses any excuse to annoy her father and his new wife.
Alina, meanwhile, at the initiative of her friend and also single mother Emma, tries to attend the club of divorced and abandoned women. There she meets Maitre Grand, a woman lawyer, whom she later replaces Maitre Leray, who did not please her with his spinelessness.
A year after Louis's marriage, his parents Louise and Fernand Davermel come to visit him and are amazed at the view of the house rented by the newlyweds a year ago on the outskirts of Paris. Everything in it is now clean, renovated and comfortable. They pay tribute to the economic talents of the new daughter-in-law, towards whom at first they were not very friendly. When they find out that this house has not only been renovated, but has already been bought by a young couple, and Louis, who works in a design firm, with the support of Odile returned to his old hobby - painting, then with humility and joy they admit that their son made an excellent choice and not in vain decided to leave the grumpy wife, who oppressed him with her tediousness and disbelief in his ability.
The former house, where the Davermel family lived, had to be sold, and Alina and her children now live in a four-room apartment, so the two girls live in one room, and Guy, whom Leon does not let into his room, is forced to sleep on the sofa in the living room, which he can only dispose when everyone else deigns to retire. Guy studies worse and worse, he is even left for the second year. Teachers, who understand that it is hard for a boy to be torn between two families: the family of his father, where he is loved and where he has his own room, and the house of his mother, who in rude terms turns him against his father and where the atmosphere leaves much to be desired, insist on for Alina to take Guy to a consultation at the Center for Mentally Disabled Children.
Louis's family will be replenished: Odile is expecting a child. Alina, on the other hand, annoys her ex-husband with endless summons, appeals, cassations, begging for additional interest on the alimony that Louis scrupulously pays to her and the children. She was tired of living alone: if her hubby got married a second time, then why shouldn't she get married. Zhinetta, Alina's sister, arranges for her a meeting at her home with a certain widower, a retired military man. The acquaintance, however, has no continuation, because Alina, no matter how difficult it is for her, is not going to connect her life with just anyone. She is warmed by the thought that if she is neglected, then she can afford the same.
Odile gives birth to a boy who is called Felix. Louis immediately informs Alina about this and asks her to convey this news to the children and they could see her brother, but she deliberately hides this news. When Rose and Guy find out about their mother's actions, they become furious: in addition to endless attacks on their father, she also forbids them to see their brother. Younger children have so far used every opportunity to stop by at Nogent to see their father, even for five minutes, and now they even want to move in with him. Rosa and Guy decide to take extreme measures to secure the transfer of custody to their father: they run away from home and, sitting at the train station, write letters of complaint to all courts asking them to consider their case.
Alina, worried about the absence of children, sends Leon and Agatha, whom she always uses as a spy in her father's house, to find out if the children have run away to him. After the next trial, the younger children are allowed to move to their father. The elders are also increasingly moving away from the mother. Leon is already quite an adult, he has a girlfriend, and Agatha can increasingly be seen on a motorcycle behind some tough guy. Alina looks at her daughter's company through her fingers: if only she would not be seriously carried away by one person. But after talking with young guys, Agatha concludes that she is more interested in adult men, and falls in love with Edmond, the owner of a leather goods store. Edmond is married, but his wife is in an insane asylum. Agatha does not want to repeat the mistakes of her mother and wants to be able to break her connection at any time, without a divorce. At the same time, she now understands better the motives and behavior of her father.
Alina is trying in every possible way to lure back the younger children, but she does not succeed. Children have matured and can already stand up for themselves perfectly. True, twice a month and during the holidays, they continue to see her.
Three and a half years after the start of the divorce proceedings, Louis and Alina, completely exhausted by the endless fees for lawyers and other fees associated with the proceedings, finally decide, by mutual agreement, to complete it. Louis has the opportunity to devote more time and money to his family. Leon will now come to his father for a check once a month. Agatha gets the same opportunity, but it is on the last day of judgment that she leaves her mother's house forever to live with Edmond. Agatha feels like a traitor, because it was she who was closest to her mother, but she can no longer live under Alina's wing. Agatha does not even leave her with her new phone, but only gives her the opportunity to write letters on demand.
Almost a year after these events, in February 1970, the three older children get together in a cafe and from then on decide to meet more often and try to somehow reconcile their parents.
One day, Alina, unable to control her nerves, near her old house by car gets into an accident, as a result of which she ends up in the hospital with broken legs, arms and ribs. The only thing that brings her consolation is that all the children, even Agatha, whom she has not seen for a long time, come to visit her.
In November 1972, Leon marries Solange, whom he had met for several years before. In a year, he will become, like his paternal grandfather, a pharmacist. To be proud of her children, sometimes to see them and live in an apartment that smelled of cats, and even paid for by her ex-husband, is all that remains for Alina. Alina quietly lives out her life without joy and without purpose and slowly, slowly fades away.