This is a book about a young man who is struggling with the religious upbringing his Huguenot parents give him and when he seeks to appease them by getting married to a woman he doesn’t love, this struggle leads to his own disillusionment, the wages of sin, and her own deep unhappiness, stagnation, and doom. On honeymoon, Michel contracts tuberculosis to which his new wife devotes herself to his care while he ignores her affections for the love of various men across North Africa, and in returning to the European continent and she is afflicted with a difficult pregnancy he finds he cannot return the care. The book acts as a confession of Michel.
There’s an author’s preface to this book that I think would serve as a fair lesson to many readers I come across. Not so much readers of books, but people who watch certain tv shows and read or more to the point don’t read certain books. Gide suggests that this book is neither a condemnation of nor praise of the actions of the protagonist, and instead it is left up to the readers to way in for themselves what they feel about the character and his choices. It seems obvious to a point, but I often find a lot of people on the internet who fail to establish even the slightest line between author and their creation and associate the feels and sentiments presented in the book as a direct reflection of their life’s philosophy. That’s the same thing as the question of representation and portrayal, but still.