As Karine only sees her friend for twenty minutes and René is tied up teaching for three hours, Karine just sits in the car and waits for René to finish. Or rather, she doesn't, and René discovers that she's been taking his car for jaunts while he's teaching, even though she doesn't even have a licence. That's the end of her sponging off René, or so he thinks: Karine belongs to a family of violent thugs, and they won't allow René to reject Karine without making his life a misery.
Which is exactly what they do, and along with the insults that he receives from members of her family, they also start bullying Marilou at school, which the family rules with a powerful grip. René retaliates by using violence, although violence of course breeds violence, so both father and daughter are in a very stressful situation. Time to call Max.
Max is an ex-con René has taught. A very big and powerful man who is known by many people in the area, and who is forever grateful to René for teaching him the joys of reading, the power of language. You don't mess with Max, and a few very calmly voiced threats on his part to the family from hell soon eases the situation considerably, and René and Marilou can go about their lives in peace.
It's when René joins Max in a restaurant project in Manosque that the real problems start, and we shift from the hell that one family creates to the hell that one man – an obviously psychotic judge – can cause. And this is a Kafkaesque situation in which a totally innocent person is consistently held to be guilty.
René is arrested for three days because of his association with a criminal, held in a room without toilet facilities, and where he learns to identify the unbearable smell of fear. The judge, who doesn't even look at him, declares that he can no longer use the restaurant and no longer travel beyond the boundary of the département, meaning in effect that he is out of work. His car has also been confiscated and he must report to the local police station every Friday.
It becomes obvious, through such extreme measures as the judge ordering (slightly reluctant) policemen to again search his home, and ordering him to be psychiatrically examined (twice), that the judge has personal problems which have nothing to do with the reality of René's predicament. But although murdering the judge may be a perfectly understandable reaction, the author/narrator evidently opts for the saner choice of destroying the man through the written word. Riveting reading.