On the eve of World War One, everything is bright and happy when the Mercadier family arrives from Paris, as usual, to spend the summer vacation with an uncle, the Count of Sainteville. The old Ch teau still has all its old charm and its memories, the French countryside is as pretty as a picture, the summer is hot and sunny and the mountain is a marvelous sight... But there are the new lodgers to contend with, these people from Lyons who are also there for the summer. They sow the seeds and soon everyone has caught the bug: the children learn their first lessons of physical love and jealousy; it rubs off on the parents, who abandon their cynical facades, wake up to the fact that their respective marriages have failed and give passion a trial. The older generation either sharpens its claws or takes flight. Appearances fly into fragments. Everyone seems to be tasting the honeyed pleasures of deceit and betrayal.
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"Is this how people live ?" Louis Aragon, in this chapter of "Les Voyageurs de l'Impérial", comes across as the privileged witness of a perverse, droll yet pitiful game played to rules of his own making. It's like a sophisticated drawing-room comedy, a dance between three generations who copy, spy on and envy each other. They all seem to have a hunch that this is their last chance, they've got to be happy and hurry up and live before it's too late. In fact the worms are already in the fruit. These sun-drenched summer days do not conceal their rottenness for long. The inevitable realities are closing in fast. These contradictory, cowardly but romantic, endearing but ruthless characters have sensed, in their own way, that the end of a certain world is nigh. "I hope they have a war", the old, exhausted château owner finally says. "By the time we've learned to live, it's already too late", Aragon alo said, but without hopelessness."
(Christian de Chalonge)