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It was not love at first sight. It proved to be not much of a conversation...Nothing should have come of it.
A passionate but ultimately tragic love affair starts when two students - one French, one English - meet at university at the beginning of the sixties. From its tentative early stages, the relationship develops into a life-changing one, whose profound impact continues to reverberate forty years later.
'Melvyn Bragg has added another formidable chapter to one of the most distinguished literary series of recent times'
—David Robson, Sunday Telegraph
protested that he was helpful. He did not feel it. He could not follow her. The sense of each other through feelings alone became more faint and words failed. He felt pushed away. She needed to be left alone to inhabit this circle of grief and to save herself from it. For she felt the grief could engulf and extinguish her; so much guilt at what had not been done, so much sorrow at what had not been done, so much shame at what had been done to François, so undefended. Grief blighted her feelings.
Sylvestre, late middle-aged, a salt-and-sun-worn face, broad-shouldered, was uneasy in his black suit but well used to funerals. With some skill he had manoeuvred Natasha apart from the others after the funeral, after the food and the wine. He held out a nondescript box. ‘I want you to have this, Miss Natasha,’ he said. ‘It’s not much. It’s shells. Plenty of the really little ones, the ones you can hardly ever find. They take a lot of digging out. François used to look out for them on the
permissiveness, allowing each to weave variations, fanciful, parodic, camp, apart and yet together often by no more than an exchange of glances, dancing together even though entire songs could fly by without them so much as touching each other. It allowed for public exhilaration without the curse of showing off. It allowed the music to flood the mind, to establish a chemical bliss of mindlessness, draw out all the inhibitions by its sweet marauding sirens of rhythm and melody, and in that
shift these wretched works of art to Wadham.’ ‘Wretched? Unfair. You have not seen them.’ ‘It is that which arouses my suspicion.’ ‘You read too many crime novels.’ ‘Don’t be absurd.’ Roderick found the solution. ‘Bob, you and me, four or five trips each, carry the things, what’s wrong with that?’ So they did. The little procession of three undergraduates walked backwards and forwards between the college and the house of Professor Stevens several times, bearing paintings. Roderick looked
for dinner. ‘A house like this needs many more servants,’ said Isabel. ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!’ said Alain. ‘Not when you are cold and the food is cold, the rooms are cold and everything is fading away. Look at those curtains.’ They were in their suite, a little whisky before bed. ‘I like decadence,’ said Alain. ‘I prefer decomposition. If it were all new I would distrust it.’ ‘Hypocrite!’ ‘Speak of yourself. You adore the Chateau. I see your eyes. I see you nod, like this,’ he