The best parts of the book are where the narrator goes deeper into inhabiting her own craziness in Sarah’s absence. She abandons her possibly dead lover and effectively non-existent daughter and goes to Trieste. It’s as though Delabroy-Allard fully accepts here that she has given up on the social novel altogether, and moves instead into a form of travel writing that ends up being more alluring and disturbing than the sex scenes. I found the “glimmering gold, blindingly beautiful” Adriatic the perfect backdrop for the narrator’s decline, if only because the dreamlike setting stopped me minding how wilfully unconvincing the characterisation is beneath the seductive prose.
Prose chopped into short sections (the book’s first half has 82 chapters in 77 pages) is a popular tool at the moment – it can bring weight without adding length, by inviting the reader to fill the gaps – recent examples include Jenny Offill’s Weather and Colum McCann’s Apeirogon; but it must be used carefully to avoid seeming either glib or portentous. Delabroy-Allard succeeds by keeping things simple and using repeated phrases to layer the story.