Hidden Lives, By Sylvie Germaintrs Mike Mitchell

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The Independent Culture

We know that secrets can destroy, but in the final pages of Sylvie Germain's curiously flat novel we realise that it's their release that has the real destructive force.

Sabine steals a rug from a department store. Pierre, dressed as Santa, sees her, and wonders if she is in trouble. She is: her husband, Georges, has died in a car crash and she's being bullied by her father-in-law, Charlam, over her husband's business.

Sabine asks Pierre to work for her, and over the years both she and her daughter come to depend on him, much to Charlam's anger. But an insult from Charlam sends Pierre away, and that's when we discover the reason for his previously itinerant lifestyle: his mother had an affair with a German soldier during the war andwas punished by the local townsfolk. Meanwhile, Georges's aunt's secret lust for her nephew, sated one night when he was a teenager, brings her to the brink.

Germain's quiet tone takes the sensationalism out of her Freudian family romance without removing the horror, or the need for secrets.