In May of 2002 in Paris, Julia Jarmond and her eleven-year-old daughter, Zoë, visit the apartment they are about to move into. The apartment formerly belonged to Mamé Tézac, the grandmother of Julia’s husband, Bertrand. Julia and Zoë are accompanied on their visit by Bertrand, who talks noisily on his cell phone the entire time, and Bertrand’s business partner, Antoine, who will be coordinating the apartment’s renovation. While waiting to take the elevator up to the apartment, Julia receives a phone call from her boss, Joshua, telling her she needs to come into work to help with “closing the July issues.” In the elevator, Julia contemplates herself in the mirror, thinking she looks “as eroded as the groaning lift.”
This chapter introduces Julia, the novel’s second protagonist. Julia is shown struggling to reconcile the reality of her life as a middle-aged woman in a less than happy marriage with an elusive, deeper sense of herself. This search for a core sense of selfhood will constitute a large part of Julia’s journey in the novel, as will her evolving relationship to her husband, who in this chapter is introduced as narcissistic and obnoxious. By establishing the context of Julia’s move into her grandmother-in-law’s old apartment, this chapter also subtly alludes to the power of physical spaces and their role in preserving historical memory.