The Governesses

The Governesses

Mel Joulwan convinced me to read this super-short French novel when she described it as a "naughty fairy tale" in WSIRN Episode 219, called "Required reading revisited." This novel was published in France in 1992 but not translated into English until 2018. In this lush story with Gothic vibes, three mysterious sisters dwell in an isolated mansion behind a golden gate, ever-watchful that an unsuspecting man will stumble upon the garden path, that they may first bewitch and then devour him. Smart, magical, playful—and also A LOT darker than I expected; "naughty" doesn't begin to cover it. (Content warnings for sexual assault and other sexual content.)

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About the Book

The sensational US debut of a major French writer―an intense, delicious meringue of a novella

In a large country house shut off from the world by a gated garden, three young governesses responsible for the education of a group of little boys are preparing a party. The governesses, however, seem to spend more time running around in a state of frenzied desire than attending to the children’s education. One of their main activities is lying in wait for any passing stranger, and then throwing themselves on him like drunken Maenads. The rest of the time they drift about in a kind of sated, melancholy calm, spied upon by an old man in the house opposite, who watches their goings-on through a telescope. As they hang paper lanterns and prepare for the ball in their own honor, and in honor of the little boys rolling hoops on the lawn, much is mysterious: one reviewer wrote of the book’s “deceptively simple words and phrasing, the transparency of which works like a mirror reflecting back on the reader.”

Written with the elegance of old French fables, the dark sensuality of Djuna Barnes and the subtle comedy of Robert Walser, this semi-deranged erotic fairy tale introduces American readers to the marvelous Anne Serre.

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