This is a book that begins in pain and ends in pain, but the journey from the beginning to the end does not take a straight path. The book opens in a French school yard where a boy has just been hit in the chest with a snowball and faints. His sister is brought in and what becomes clear is that the snowball has been packed with a rock. The thrower is an effeminate boy who becomes the object of desire of his victim.
Thus we begin to see the various dynamics and tensions in this novel. Our protagonists are a brother and sister, rich as hell, and orphaned at a young age. As they grow up with no real consistent adult figure in their life, they learn to turn to each other for support and guidance. Only it turns out they’re both emotional stunted and almost depraved, sapping and manipulating and destroying each other and every one around us. This brings in a childhood friend who “loves” the sister and is utterly destroyed by her as well as a young girl who so resembles the effeminate boy from the start of the book that the brother turns to her as an emotional dump.
The novel is short and sparse and carefully laden with dozens of illustrations from the author and all of this creates a kind of fairy tale like atmosphere for the novel. It also feels like a kind of reversal of more sentimental stories previous to the novel (this is from 1929) and sets the tone for more abusive and codependent brother/sister relationships in books and movies later on.