The journalist Gilles Lantier, now thirty-five, is depressed. Almost every day he wakes up at dawn, and his heart pounding from what he calls fear of life. He has an attractive appearance, an interesting profession, he has achieved success, but his melancholy and hopeless despair are gnawing at him. He lives in a three-room apartment with a beautiful Eloise, a working model, but he never had spiritual affinity with her, and now she has ceased to attract him even physically. During one party at his friend and colleague Jean Gilles, having gone to wash their hands in the bathroom, suddenly felt an inexpressible horror at the sight of a small pink piece of soap. He stretches out his hands to take it, and can not, as if the soap had turned into some small nocturnal animal, lurking in the darkness and ready to creep along his arm.
Gilles works in the international department of the newspaper. Bloody events are taking place in the world, awakening a ticklish sense of horror among his fellow men, and not so long ago he would also willingly gasp with them, expressing his indignation, but now he experiences only annoyance and irritation from these events because they distract his attention from the true, his own drama. Jean notices that something is amiss with his friend, tries to shake him somehow, advises him to go on vacation or go on a business trip, but without success, because Gilles feels dislike for any kind of activity. Over the past three months, he practically ceased to meet with all friends and acquaintances. The doctor, to whom Gilles turned, wrote out to him just in case a medicine, but explained that the main cure for this disease is time that you just need to wait out the crisis, and most importantly – to rest. The same advice is given to him and Eloise, who several years ago also had something similar. Gilles finally hears all these tips and goes to rest with his older sister Odilea, who lives in the village under Lime.
When he lived there, without experiencing any improvement, two weeks, his sister pulls him out to visit Limoges, and there Gilles meets Natalie Silvener. Red-haired and green-eyed beauty Natalie, the wife of a local judge official, feels herself to be the queen of Limousin, that is the historical region of France, centered on Limoges, and she wants to please the visiting Parisian, besides the journalist. Moreover, she falls in love with him at first sight. But at the heartthrob Gilles this time there is not the slightest inclination to love adventures, and he flies. However, the next day, Natalie herself visits his sister. Between Gilles and Natalie fast love relationships are established, in which the initiative constantly belongs to her. Gilles has the first signs of recovery and a revival of interest in life.
Meanwhile, in Paris, the editorial office is vacated in his newspaper, and Jean proposes Gilles, who in this connection is forced to return urgently to the capital. Everything is developing as well as possible, and Gilles is confirmed in office. However, although he had long dreamed about this promotion, now this success does not worry him too much. For his thoughts he is in Limoges. He realizes that he fell seriously in love, does not find a place, Natalia always calls. And Eloise explains the situation, which, naturally, suffers heavily from the need to part with Gilles. It takes only three days, and Gilles is already rushing back to Limoges. The holiday continues. Lovers spend a lot of time together. One day, Gilles turns up at an evening organized by the Sylviers in their rich house, where, as the journalist’s experienced opinion points out, the luxury was not overwhelming, which Parisian is not surprised, but a sense of lasting prosperity. On this evening, Gilles... talks with his brother Natalie, who frankly confesses to him that he is in despair, because he considers Gilles a weak, weak-willed egoist.
Natalie had expressed her willingness to abandon her husband and go after Gilles to the ends of the world, and this conversation pushes Gilles to more decisive actions, and he decides to take her to him as soon as possible. Finally the vacation ends, Gilles leaves, and three days later – to keep up appearances – Natalie comes to him in Paris. Several months pass. Gilles is gradually mastering the new position. Natalie visits museums, theaters, examines the sights of the capital. Then he gets a job in a travel agency. Not so much because of money, how much to make your life more meaningful. Everything seems to be going well, but the first crack appears in these relations. The editor-in-chief, the owner of the newspaper, who invited Gilles, Natalie and Jean to dinner, complacently cites Shamfort, stating that these words belong to Stendhal. Natalie, a woman well-read and at the same time uncompromising, corrects him, which causes displeasure both for the boss and for the weakly-minded, inclined to adapt Gilles. In general, he is more and more in the grip of the contradictions that tear him apart. In his soul, a conflict arises between love for Natalie, gratitude for her miraculous healing and longing for the former free life, a thirst for freedom, a desire to feel independent and to communicate more, as in former times, with friends.
Going on the occasion of illness and death of her aunt in Limoges, where her husband persuades her to stay, Natalie burns all the bridges behind her and makes the final choice in favor of Gilles. Reckless step, as it soon becomes clear. One morning, Gilles comes to the office radiant: the previous evening he wrote a very good article about the events in Greece, connected with the coming to power of the “black colonels”. He reads her Natalie, she admires this article, and Gilles feels the upsurge. This is very important for him, because during the last time he had something like a creative crisis. The editor-in-chief praised the article, and Jean. And after they released that day a newspaper number. Gilles invites Jean to his home. They settle down in the living room, drink Calvados, and here Gilles finds in himself an irresistible craving for psychoanalysis. He begins to explain to Jean, that once Natalie helped him, warmed him and brought it back to life, but now that her care is suffocating him, his power, straightforwardness and integrity are a burden to him. At the same time, he admits that he has nothing to blame for, that he himself, or rather, his languid, weak, unstable character, is to blame. To this analysis, as the author notes. Reside should be added that he can not even imagine life without Natalie, but in a fit of pride and complacency, seeing the apparent sympathy of a friend and drinking companion, he relieves himself of this confession. But completely in vain. Because it suddenly turns out that Natalie was not at work at that moment, as they had expected, but nearby, in the bedroom, and she heard the whole conversation from beginning to end. However, going out to friends, she did not tell them that. She seems to be calm. Throwing with friends in two or three words, she leaves the house. A few hours later it turns out that she went not at all on business, but rented a room in one of the hotels and took a huge dose of sleeping pills. It can not be saved. In the hands of Gilles is her death note: “You have nothing to do with it, my dear.” I was always a little exalted and did not love anyone but you. “