A nearly anonymous tale of a French boarding school in the ’50s where the girls are involved in more than Sartre, smokes and jazz.
Aimée, the non-teacher who heads the non-school deep in chateau country, is so permissive that her five charges behave themselves—in the absence of any discipline, they’re terrified of what might happen if they followed their own unchecked impulses. But all that changes with the arrival of a temporary replacement teacher named Sabine. It isn’t long before Viola, the 17-year-old Brit who tells the story, has fallen head-over-heels in love with the newcomer. In prose remarkable for both its calculated 1958 detail and its schoolgirl prose (the affair “was as natural as breathing. Unnatural is the man-made law that decrees it so”), Viola traces the idyllic early weeks of their love, a period that comes to an abrupt end when Sabine takes to her bed with a mysterious malady of the blood. At this point, Sabine, whose golden-downed legs have been evoked more successfully than her mind or voice, retreats for good behind the mechanics of the plot, which extend to a sinister male rival, nocturnal adventures in the school basement and the secrets of an aristocratic family.
An eroticized anecdote, set forth in language that sounds like a translation, just creepy enough for Halloween, though without the staying power that would make it linger into All Saints’ Day.