This is the story of a family that's gone wrong, been partly destroyed by tragedy. But the information is drip-fed (or slowly suggested) to us, and this is surely Ravey's main power (at least in this novel): the ability to hold us in suspense as he gradually unrolls the intrigue.
After fifteen years in prison for raping and it seems killing a young girl, the student narrator's forgotten (and not too intelligent) cousin Freddy is released from prison and comes to see his cousin, the widow Madame Rebernak, who has no wish to see him and fears for the safety of her daughter Clémence. But Freddy has served his sentence, been allowed to leave before time for good behavior, and unless he re-offends he's more or less free to do as he pleases. His probation officer evens hopes Mrs Rebernak will forgive him and allow his reintegration into society, even to the point of living in her house. But the idea is anathema to Mrs Rebernak, who is supicious of his hanging around outside the lycée where she works as a cleaning woman and where her daughter is a student. She goes as far as to consider Freddy's dog, who visits the outside of the house during the night, as a veiled threat.
Clémence is the girlfriend of Paul, the son of the solicitor Montussaint, who was a hunting friend of Mrs Rebernak's husband. All the time in this short novel the suspense grows and the reader knows that something awful is going to happen, although of what nature is unknown. But the sympathies start to shift and Freddy begins to decline as a force of evil in proportion as Montussaint grows as one.
Montussaint not only makes inappropriate gestures to Clémence, but tries to blackmail her into silence by threatening to cause Martha (as he refers to her mother) to lose her job if Clémence tells anyone of his sexually predatory behavior. Towards the end it's clear (by the understated way that Ravey chooses his words) that Montussaint has raped Clémence. And of course he tries to blame it on Freddy, although Martha has already figured the situation out, and finds a much better use for her dead husband's weapon than killing her cousin (and quite the opposite to the one Montussaint has suggested to her.)
This is language written in very simple words, simple and short sentences, pared down to an absolute minimum of adjectives, much suggestion and virtually no moral comment, actions revealing the psychology, etc, but this is proof positive of the power of literature to speak volumes by saying so little. That this power should be in the form of what amounts to a thriller slightly disappoints me though: surely writing of this calibre can be used to say so much more?
My other post on Yves Ravey:
Yves Ravey: La Fille de mon meilleur ami