cover image My Devotion

My Devotion

Julia Kerninon, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa, $18 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-60945-614-6

A woman recounts her long, complicated relationship with a famous painter in French writer Kerninon’s stinging English-language debut. After Helen, nearly 80, unexpectedly encounters her long-ago lover Frank Appledore in London, she begins a monologue directed at Frank of their meeting in 1950s Rome, where their diplomat parents were stationed. After Helen leaves for Amsterdam to study literature, she invites Frank to stay with her. In their 20s, Helen dedicates herself to a publishing career, while Frank drifts until he finally attempts painting at 28. Despite periodic sex and Helen’s domestic labor undergirding Frank’s sensational rise, they never become a couple (“The girls who slept with you always wanted to spend time with me afterwards, no doubt to make sure that I was not your partner,” she says). Frank’s marriage to a gallery owner ruptures their bond, and Helen leaves to marry an architect. Upon discovering Frank has a son, Ludwig, Helen, grieving her own infertility, abandons her failing marriage and joins Frank in Normandy to raise Ludwig. In a spiteful moment, Helen reveals a secret that upends the family and leads to gut-wrenching consequences. Kerninon’s perceptive unfolding of Helen’s pains in elegant prose makes for a poignant portrait of buried frustrations. Readers looking for a slow burn will enjoy this tragic novel. (Aug.)