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In a small mountain village in France, a young and unhappy schoolteacher is forced to be a wounded man’s jailer for a night, a man long thought to be the terror of the area but now finally captured. The novel asks us to consider just what makes a prison—and a prisoner.
A group of young men from the village bang on Julia’s door and demand that the young schoolteacher accompany them. They lead her to the school, where, on the floor, lies a bleeding, savage-looking man. The feared “Papa” has been captured at last. Papa has been living in the forests that surround the village, hiding from the residents, who believe him to be a monster who has raped and murdered and who think him a drinker of blood and eater of the flesh of their children. Because of her position of authority, Julia is charged with keeping Papa alive until morning and is locked with him in her own classroom.
Julia is deeply frightened of the man. Papa’s penetrating gaze unsettles her and makes her even more uncomfortable and unaccepting of the role that has been forced on her. At first she can think only of escape, but gradually she begins to understand the position that Papa is in. She offers him food and drink, and slowly they begin to talk, and she sees that there is more to him than the dreaded “Papa.” Julia begins to wonder about the prisoner’s culpability. The more they talk, the more she finds herself thinking about her own life and the walls she has built around it. By morning she finds herself transformed. She is no longer dead to the world, no longer only the victim of her former lover’s betrayal and abandonment. Leaving the classroom that served as a prison for her as well as Papa, she feels unexpectedly free.
This resonant novel pairs two unlikely characters in a fateful meeting that leaves at least one of them changed. The night has blurred the line between victim and perpetrator, jail and freedom, prisoner and jailer.
Anne Plantagenet : Anne Plantagenet is the author of two previous novels and of biographies of Marilyn Monroe and of Manolete. Her latest book was a collection of short stories, Pour des siècles et des siècles, published by Éditions Stock in 2008. One of her novels, The Last Rendezvous, is forthcoming from The Other Press.