The Desert of Love is one of Mauriac's most powerful studies of the effect of passion, first upon a boy of seventeen who is eager for the experience which this particular woman denies him: then upon his father, an upright and conscientous doctor whose infidelity is never anything but a daydream but who is ineradicably seared none the less. Years after, father and son both encounter the wowman again and feel the force of a personality which has dominated their very different lives. The woman, Maria Cross, is one of Mauriac's most enigmatic characters, whether hypocrite or victim is left for the reader to decide.
Le Mal, which Gerard Hopkins translates as The Enemy, also deals with a young man's first sex experience with a woman much older than himself. The action is very compressed and the book, which was written 10 years later than The Desert of Love, is perhaps concerned with the spiritual rather than the psychological issue. The two are printed together as variants on one of Mauriac's most persistent themes, the abiding and ever-extending effects of sexual passion, the responsibility we incur, often unwillingly, for those whose lives are touched by ours.