Publication Date: May 01, 2018
List Price US $9.99
List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
Three generations of women untangle a complex family story that encompasses the First and Second World Wars, revealing unexpected lessons about marriage and fidelity.
Christiane, eighty-six years old with a vibrant sense of humor, lives alone in a large apartment in the heart of Paris. Her daughter Catherine is her total opposite: sullen and uptight, filled with resentment toward her unfaithful Milanese husband. After discovering yet another affair, Catherine takes refuge in Paris at her mother’s home, accompanied by her own daughter, Luna. Christian—who, in spite of occasional dalliances on both sides, lived a beautiful love story with her late husband—uses all of her freethinking charm in an effort to change Catherine’s rigid, self-pitying attitude.
As the women air their opposing views, Luna discovers by chance that her great-grandfather had met the philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the subject of the thesis she is the middle of writing. Seeing Luna’s avid curiosity, Christiane takes the opportunity to tell the story of her family, which spans the twentieth century. Memories resurface, and past events are reconstructed, shedding a new light on the present.
With a keen, lighthearted wit, The Devil’s Reward shows that life is complicated and often painful, but when conventional morals are imperative, it becomes unbearable.
Excerpt from The Devil’s Reward
Catherine is beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. It’s perhaps because I made her, but everyone always used to tell me how stunning she looked. She just thickened up a bit these past years, probably eating too much. Her problem—and I say this out of immense love for her—is that she’s very tiresome. She got that from my mother. Everything is a big deal to her. She is constantly on the lookout, nostrils dilated sniffing every danger, ears cocked to detect the slightest threat. Her husband grants himself a few too many liberties, but they’ve been married for thirty-something years and she spends her life spying on him. It’s as though all these tragedies that she’s staging were giving her a reason to live. If she knew that I cheated on her father and how much he cheated on me she’d hit the ceiling. And yet we loved each other. None of our lovers were ever of any real importance, but that was another time. People tended to marry only once and they easily got used to the idea of having later on a sort of fraternal friend with whom to finish out one’s days. In between people occupied themselves as best they could, but we had enough sense not to confuse everything. At least in our families it was like that.
For my daughter, on the other hand, it’s a tragedy. She always had a tendency to dramatize things, but in this my little girl is powerless, it’s just the way she is. And obviously it’s not for me, her mother, to tell her to take a lover of her own. It always pains me to hear her go on like this. But really, why does she obsess about snooping into her husband’s business? No couple can withstand such up-close inspection.
“Illuminating…A seductive life lesson.” —Vogue (Italy)
“A love triangle in which we clearly recognize ourselves.” —Vanity Fair (Italy)
“A novel that reveals the hidden nerves of family relationships.” —Marie Claire (Italy)
“De Villepin adroitly plumbs the depths of human emotions.” —L’Espresso
- What is Christiane’s storytelling philosophy? Do you agree with it?
- What is the “devil’s reward” of the title?
- Who is Rudolf Steiner? Had you heard of him before reading The Devil’s Reward? What relationship does he have with Christiane and her family?
- A friend of Aunt Bette’s explains that “According to Steiner, evil can operate in either of two ways: the way of Lucifer, which turns man exaggeratedly from reality, so that he only takes interest in spiritual matters; or the way of Ahriman, which binds him to matter and turns his attention from all spiritual activities” (p 30). Are there any characters in the novel who display either of these evils?
- Describe the relationship between Christiane and her daughter. How are they similar? How do they differ? Do you think there’s a similarity between their relationship and the one between Christiane and her own mother? Is Catherine more like her mother or her grandmother Marguerite?
- What do you think of Papyrus? Is he ultimately a sympathetic character, or does your impression of him differ from Christiane’s? If Marguerite were the narrator, do you think your impression of him would change?
- Christiane tells us of her father, “He never let his sad, complicated side show in public” (p 144). How are she and Papyrus similar?
- How does World War II affect Christiane’s family?
- Describe Christiane’s ideal of marriage. Do you agree with her?
- How does Aunt Bette save Christiane’s life? Do you think Christiane saves her daughter’s life?