cover image Marguerite


Marina Kemp. Viking, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-984877-83-3

In Kemp’s stellar debut, a young nurse gets caught up in romance, jealousy, and gossip on a farm in the South of France. Having trained to become a nurse in order to help treat her sister’s meningitis, Marguerite Demers takes a job caring for the prideful, cruel Jérôme Lanvier at his dilapidated Saint-Sulpice farmhouse. There, she befriends Suki, an Iranian who wears a hijab, causing the townspeople to call her a “witch doctor.” Both women provoke jealousy in Brigitte, who, along with her husband, Henri, works for Jérôme. Suki has long been picked on by gossipy and insecure Brigitte, who slanders her perceived rivals with abandon. Meanwhile, Henri, a handsome, sensitive farmer, is having an affair with Edgar, a writer, and is resigned to stay at the farm with Brigitte, where he tries to find contentment working in the dirt, enjoying “the day’s long accumulation of filth.” As Henri stands up for Marguerite, the pair’s connection heightens. Eventually rumors, combined with Suki, Brigitte, and Edgar’s jealousy, threaten Marguerite and Henri. Precise, distinctive prose (train doors close “with a hiss like a punctured tyre”) and well-drawn characters make this satisfying tale all the more memorable. Expect Kemp to make a big splash. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Mar.)