Bored and lonely, 15-year-old Helene decides to pay a visit to her father's mistress. Within days, she is captivated by Tamara, a Russian émigré whose arts of enchantment include lingering kisses, sudden dismissals, and savage, rapturous reunions.
As long as she submits to Tamara, Hélène is permitted to stay near her: reading forbidden novels, meeting Tamara's bohemian friends, and learning more "refinements of depravity" than the gossiping matrons of her provincial French town could imagine existed.
Flemish writer Françoise Mallet-Joris was 20 years old in 1951 when her first novel, Le Rempart des Béguines, - published in English as The Illusionist - created a sensation in France. This contemplative, beautifully written book, with its dark undercurrents of desire, has its origins in Madame Bovary and the novels of Colette, and was a precursor to Françoise Sagan's similarly themed Bonjour Tristesse.