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Anne Serre was born in 1960 and is the author of seventeen works of fiction. Among her distinctions are a 2008 Cino del Duca Foundation award and the 2020 Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle for her short-story collection, Au coeur d’un été tout en or. The UK edition of A Leopard-Skin Hat, first published in the US by New Directions in 2023, is due out from Lolli Editions in June 2024. The following five stories, exclusively published in TANK, each take their opening line or lines from a book in her personal library.

Mark Hutchinson was born in London in 1957 and lives in Paris. He has translated four of Anne Serre’s books and many other works from the French, including René Char’s Hypnos: Notes from the French Resistance and The Inventors and Other Poems, and Emmanuel Hocquard’s The Library at Trieste and The Gardens of Sallust.

ONE

ON THE LAWN

 

FLASH FICTION BY ANNE SERRE TRANSLATED BY MARK HUTCHINSON

It was the afternoon. Behind the house was a small garden, and in the garden, bounded by a gravel path, a circular lawn. And what I saw on that lawn, from behind the lace curtains of my room, is worth relating, I think, for otherwise I shall be weighed down by this memory for the rest of my life, as cumbersome as a heap of old furniture poking out from a cart and threatening at any moment to collapse. We lived quietly in this enormous house, with our parents, our paternal grandparents, a childless great-aunt and her husband and a penniless cousin on my mother’s side.

Ever since I began writing and telling stories, I have always wanted to describe (and have tried to do so a hundred times) what our existence was like in that house, where there were a good ten of us and where, for reasons not clear to me, we lived in the middle of the twentieth century as if it was the nineteenth century. I have tried and have never succeeded (though were I to succeed it would be the story of my life) because each time, after about twenty pages, the story would slip from my hands; to continue with it seemed insurmountable, there was too much to explain, and too much madness, of course. Twenty times or more I have begun by describing the interior of the house, its twenty rooms, how they did or did not communicate with each other and who lived where, but the doors would continually open and then close, the maids go upstairs, then down, my parents, romantic in one room, would become alarming in another, in still other rooms my grandparents would go about their different lives from a different age, and I could no longer recall when it was that my great-uncle died or why my mother’s cousin looked like she had stepped out of a Hitchcock film as she was coming downstairs one day.

Behind the house, in fact, was not a “small garden” but the grounds of a park. The bourgeoisie has fallen out of fashion, and if you happen to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth, even tarnished by time, had a bookish upbringing and a fascinating lifestyle, it’s best to keep quiet about it in this day and age, which is as senseless as any day and age. I don’t know whether it’s some kind of shame that holds me back, shame at having had a fascinating childhood, or whether it’s the intricate web of relationships in the house, where there were a good ten of us, not counting the maids, and where everything changed places very fast like a speeded-up film, only a film played backwards.

Anyway, on the lawn one day I witnessed a scene like the Gilberte scene in À la Recherche, and anyone who has read Proust will know what I mean by this. In À la Recherche there’s an enigmatic scene very similar to a scene in Buñuel’s film, Belle de jour. A scene where you understand nothing. In À la Recherche, Gilberte makes a sign that petrifies the child narrator (but what sign?), while in Belle de jour, a man presents a prostitute with a box in which, when she opens it, she appears to discover something extraordinary, and yet we will never know what was in that box. Concealed behind the lace curtains of my room, it was something of this kind that I saw on the lawn, and I was so disturbed by it that the memory, of course, has always refused to reveal itself.

First lines from Ein Böser Demon, Frank Wedekind