This comedy is strongly steeped in the culture and mores of the time, essentially revolving around the relationship between the twenty-three-year-old Marius, who works in the seafront bar run by his father César, and the eighteen-year-old Fanny, who sells shellfish a few yards away.
This is a kind of he-loves-me-he-loves-me not story with an odd third person in the love mix: the besotted and slightly ridiculous Panisse, a widower of fifty who is a relatively prosperous sail maker only too eager to marry Fanny.
Fanny is truly in love with Marius, so much that she is willing to forsake marrying him for his real love: the world of the sea that obsesses him and his dreams of all the exotic places he can visit. But he's torn apart between his spirit of adventure and his love and perceived obligations towards Fanny.
The lovers' single parents certainly aren't torn, and as this story takes place long before the sexual revolution, César and especially Fanny's mother Honorine – whose memories of her 'fallen' sister Zoë lapsing into prostitution and causing the early death of their mother are still fresh – are keen for Fanny and Marius to marry and officially consummate the sexual relationship they are already enjoying.
But Fanny knows that the call of the sea and different climes will eventually intervene in any relationship between her and Marius, and feels incapable of standing in her lover's way: she's resigned to Marius leaving her either sooner or later, and the break comes sooner with Marius – under tremendous pressure – boarding the Malaisie and departing for years.
It is only in the second volume of the trilogy (Fanny) that the eponymous protagonist will discover that she's pregnant, and that the joyous Panisse is only too happy to marry her and have the child that he never had with his first wife.
Marius is shot through with the dialect of the area, and also the esoteric rules of the card game manille, which I'd rather not bother learning: I never learned belote, although I must admit I really enjoyed playing the card game tarot when I lived in France.
Interesting play though.