At the heart of the story are the events which have caused such substantial pain to the lodger, “a failed adult, therefore a kind of weed”, who shares a dwelling with the children’s father. The building is a sublet – a sunless, high-ceilinged place that smells like a petshop. Natasha sublets the apartment – and who is Natasha, we are intended to ask.
And what exactly is the nature of the torture which the lodger negotiates on a daily basis, which is largely invisible to the children (who likely picked up the “weed” metaphor from their father, as children do), until the undercurrent of its intensity is revealed unexpectedly and sharply to readers. “Quite often they were handed information they could not use and did not understand.”
The children make sense of things the best they can. Knowing that their father’s interpretation of the world is unreliable – “He lied only sometimes, suiting a fancy.” – though no more than anyone else’s. Knowing that his way of expressing himself differs from their American mother’s way – due to his way of translating from French into English, so that one might be described as “well-tempered” rather than “kind”.
Readers of The Testaments will hearken to the subtext of this story (encapsulated in the title), a comment on the tendency to worship, which alternates with the tendency to rewrite the past, as evident in what we preserve in stone.
We are meant to consider this in terms of a marriage, which was once filled with love and well-tempered behaviour that has been replaced with rancor and indifference. But also in broader political terms, for there were atrocities which continue to reverberate in the lives of individuals long after the reign of power has been officially dismantled.