While the details of the setting are keenly researched and acutely dramatised, Zillah Bethell brings events to life in her own rollercoaster style, one which challenges realistic reconstructions of history and hardship.
The story begins with Sister Agnes giving birth to a baby girl, an event that triggers a crisis of faith in Sister Bernadine, who, it comes to light, has given up a baby many years previously. This baby is Eveline Renan, a beautiful seventeen year old desperate to escape her life of drudgery and eager to explode conventional gender and sexual roles. The age of war and revolution finds reflection in the hearts of individual characters, as they begin to question their own principles, expectations and modes of existence. Ultimately, however, the legitimate government comes back to reclaim the city from the Commune, resulting in the terrible events of la semaine sanglante – the bloody week. Faced with these horrors, the characters are forced to either return to their old ways, or stand firm in their newfound identities.
Zillah Bethell is a graduate of Wadham College, Oxford and now lives in Tondu with her husband and two young children. She is also the author of Seahorses are Real (Seren, 2009), a haunting tale of love and tragedy that highlights the rare subject of domestic violence against men.