Translated by Mark Hutchinson
Publication date: 2 April 2019
BEST BOOKS 2018, Publishers' Weekly
The sensational English debut of a major French writer — written with the elegance of old French fables, the dark sensuality of Djuna Barnes and the subtle comedy of Robert Walser, this warped erotic fairy tale of a novella introduces UK readers to the marvellous Anne Serre.
In a large country house, shut off from the world within a gated garden, three young women responsible for the education of a group of little boys are hanging paper lanterns for a party. Their desires, however, lie elsewhere... Meet The Governesses: wild or drifting about in a sated, melancholy calm; spied upon by Monsieur Austeur, fascinated by the ever more mysterious unfolding of events, like the charms and spells of a midsummer night's dream…
Translated from French to English, Latest Must Reads with Catherine Clifford on France 24, 6 February 2019
'Prim and racy, seriously weird and seriously excellent. A John Waters sex farce told with the tact and formality of a classic French fairy tale. There’s an energy here that recalls The Virgin Suicides.'
— The New York Times
‘Inès, Laura and Éléonor are not exactly Jane Eyre types…. This could be the setup for a neo-pagan farce about the battle between Eros and civilization, but as Serre delves into the three women’s existence, the novel taps into deeper, quieter waters: the Keatsian twinning of joy and melancholy… Serre’s wistful ode to pleasure is as enchanting as its three nymph-like protagonists.’
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
‘Brutal and effervescent, The Governesses is a systems novel, in the guise of a postmodern fairy tale, a twisted take on the battle of the sexes, a Dionysian mystery in sheep’s clothing. This haunting and compulsive read, imbued with an uncanny intensity, in an unforgettable introduction to Anne Serre’s work.’
— Alexandra Kleeman, author of Intimations: Stories
'A sensualist, surrealist romp.'
— Kirkus Reviews
‘The story, classical in appearance, soon jolts us out of our sleepy way.’
— Le Monde
‘A delightful sabbath.’
‘A rollicking, not-suitable-for-work fable about three young governesses not particularly well suited to work. In the course of just over a hundred pages, Anne Serre takes on one of the mainstays of Victorian literature: the eroticized tabula rasa of the young governess who hovers, slim-waisted and beholden, somewhere between the world of her wards and that of her employer. The operation Serre performs on this figure is far more complex, and far more satisfying, than a simple inversion of gendered power dynamics: in Hutchinson’s taut English, the text quivers with a delectable, subtle tension from start to finish. This is a narrative that offers many pleasures and refuses to resolve its contradictions. The estate grounds on which Laura, Eléonore, and Inès run wild, impaling themselves on their sexual prey with an animal innocence that is judged “obscene” but “not disgraceful,” is at once a Garden of Eden and a downy burrow of iniquity; their frenetic sexuality is liberated and, at the same time, shrouded by the patriarchal haze given off by Monsieur Austeur’s “silky long cigars,” which orders their collective life. Though hunters in their own right, these young women are shaped and, quite literally, sustained by the male gaze. I devoured this one in a single sitting and was immediately seized by the urge to start in on it all over again. ‘