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by Anne Serre ; translated by Mark Hutchinson

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2807-7
Publisher: New Directions

Three young governesses upend the staid marriage of their employers and abandon their charges for erotic adventures in this exquisitely strange, novella-length fairy tale.

Monsieur and Madame Austeur and their passel of young boys occupy a country house with their three governesses, Eléonore, Inès, and Laura. Across the way, an old man spies on the young women—who tease him with erotic tableaux—through his telescope. These are no ordinary governesses, after all, and this is no ordinary country household. The governesses “wind up, all three, at the end of the afternoon when the garden is getting chilly, pressed up against the gates like dead butterflies,” waiting to seduce strangers who happen to walk by. Told in surrealist bursts, this novella combines the dreaminess of Barbara Comyns, Aimee Bender, and Kathryn Davis with the fairy-tale eroticism of Angela Carter. Each sentence evokes a dream logic both languid and circuitous as the governesses move through a fever of domesticity and sexual abandon. Serre works in fairy-tale archetypes, but she subverts them, too. Monsieur Austeur is an ironic but benevolent figure of order and masculinity who calms the feverish longings of his women just by concentrating late at night in his smoking room. “He receives all these cries, these chirrups and yelps from the women and children of the house, and, shuffling them together in his heart, sends them back transformed, slow and steady like the signals from a lighthouse.” But when Laura becomes pregnant after one of her many trysts, Monsieur’s order is upended, and he must succumb to the roiling femininity of a house full of caretakers, mothers, and desiring young women. This is a fascinating fable about marriage, longing, and sexual awakening—about what can happen within the walls of a house when the barriers between nature and domesticity are stretched to their breaking points.

A sensualist, surrealist romp.