The novel is fundamentally the story of five months in the lives of David Bourne, an American writer, and his wife, Catherine. It is set mainly in the French Riviera, specifically in the Côte d'Azur, and in Spain. The story begins with their honeymoon in the Camargue. The Bournes soon meet a young woman named Marita, with whom they both fall in love, but only one can ultimately have her. David starts an affair with Marita, while his relationship with his wife deteriorates. The story continues until the apparent separation of David and Catherine.
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