August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

by Michèle Roberts

Four women’s lives converge in France on the eve of WWI when they all fall for Gérard, a beguiling poet with a penchant for attracting, and discarding, women. There is Geneviève, a teenager who flees a household scandal; Millicent, a starry-eyed governess; Isabelle, a married dressmaker; and Marie-Louise, Gérard’s 7-year-old niece. Each takes turns telling her story of sexual and intellectual awakening with the intimacy (and juiciness) of a confession. Shifting perspectives build suspense—chapters end on emotional cliffhangers—as the erotic tension blooms in sensual prose. The story is ripe with line-dried linens and “biscuity-gold” tarts—simple things with which Roberts paints vivid pictures of inner lives. Gérard, Isabelle frets, “rationed himself more meanly than the jellied fruits…you dole out to a child on Sundays.” Roberts, who made the bestseller lists in England, has a gift for making the ordinary extraordinary. (Henry Holt, $23)

Bottom Line: Feast for the senses

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