Helene's shocking action in leaving her young son on a station platform seems inexplicable and unforgivable, until we read the rest of her story. Hers is a life typified by other emotionally traumatised families: broken and brutalised men and women driven mad by grief. Helene learns the only way to survive is to cut herself off from all feeling. That we feel empathy with her terrible decision makes the ending all the more heart-breaking.
Was it the first time he had called her Helene? Her name sounded like a foreign word, coming from him. The displeasure with which he looked at her now made Helene feel very lonely. She lay in his marital bed, the blanket up to her chin, her fingers curved into cold claws under the bedclothes, claws that she couldn't open out even if she tried, she had to keep the covers firmly in place, hiding them, hiding her body from him. The burning between her legs wasn't too bad, she was in his marital bed, the bed he had bought for his marriage to a virgin, the bed in which he was planning to teach a virgin about love. What had he thought she was? What misunderstanding had brought them together in this bed?