In three mysterious tales, Serre explores the moral implications of self-destructive impulses, storytelling, and sexual taboo.
Serre (The Governesses, 2018), one of France's finest fabulists, returns in full force in this slim, freshly translated collection. In "The Fool," an unnamed narrator considers the first card in the Major Arcana of the tarot, linking the image to her drive for self-destruction and her ability to fall in and out of love. Caught between "fear and ecstasy, ecstasy and fear," she knows only too well how to keep this rapturous back and forth at bay—and how to call it down upon herself. In "The Narrator," the subject of storytelling is debated by friends vacationing in a chalet. With her customary wit, Serre has created two competing narrators—the title character, who has no control over the story he's in, and the narrator of the story itself, who dishes up metacommentary on the morality of narration: "To feel holier-than-thou with your precious images, yes, yes, that's all very fine. But to feel smug simply because you're alone, simply because you're different from others and in possession of a secret—morally, that's not so good." As characters discover how they've been portrayed throughout the story, they begin to revolt, pushing the title character to give up his power as a storyteller in order to live in the world. But the crown jewel of this collection is the perverse, absurd, and affecting story "The Wishing Table," in which a young woman looks back on her childhood as a member of an incestuous family. Although the narrator rejects the idea of sexual abuse and embraces the "moral chaos" of her upbringing, her social isolation and strangeness permeate her adult relationships. Only after the death of her parents and years of celibacy does she uncover how to marry love with desire by reconciling her past. "[You] had only—as I had always known and believed—to pay close attention for a terrible joy to be born, for a work of art to emerge from your body, your hands, your eyes, your poor broken heart," she thinks at last.
A strange, beguiling collection about the perils of desire in all its forms.