In Theory, All Is Well

Sarah Bussy

(JC Lattès, 250 pages, 2019)


Comfortably settled in their Parisian apartment, the Laupers form a loving, and close-knit family. The two children, Cassis and her elder brother Matteo, enjoy a carefree childhood in the warm embrace of their fun and easy going parents. Cassis, the narrator, wistfully evokes the comfort of her family’s daily routines and ritualized summer vacations in her grandparents’ villa on the Atlantic seashore. Yet, her intuition also tells her that something is not quite right. She hears the muffled tears of her mother behind closed doors, but thinks nothing much of it. The adults seem to live in a parallel universe anyway, ensconced in the “mysterious and impregnable fortress” of their bedroom.


One day, twelve-year-old Cassis is made an unwitting accomplice to a secret that shatters her idyllic girlhood. She is suddenly exposed to the existence of an alternative reality co-existing right next to hers. It is one heavy secret to bear knowing that your father leads a double life. It is another one to experience so young that your most embedded and precious memories—like the decor of your childhood home—have been uncannily replicated elsewhere, down to the Matisse poster in the entranceway and the colors of the walls. She must now grow up with the burden of what she has witnessed, and the disconcerting knowledge that reality is not always as it seems.


With subtlety and ease, Bussy seamlessly captures the evolution of Cassis’ voice over a twenty-year period—from a young girl’s vivid observation of a crowded subway and its lurid advertising to the increasingly existential interrogations of a teenager coping with an unhinged sense of reality. A bittersweet coming-of-age story, In Theory, All Is Well explores the fragility of personal and familial mythology, and the emotional cost of maintaining appearances. How do we judge reality, how do we pretend to understand it, Cassis asks herself, when “everything is the expression of unbearable subjectivities”? Nonetheless, what remains and can be relied on is the power of love and family bonds.


Sarah Bussy was born in 1984 and divides her time between Paris and Shanghai. In Theory, All Is Well is her first novel.