cover image The Beginners

The Beginners

Anne Serre, trans. from the French by Mark Hutchinson. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3031-5

Serre (The Governesses) unspools the story of a love affair in her thought-provoking latest. Anna Lore, 43, an art critic living in a small French town with Guillaume, her partner of 20 years, meets scientist Thomas Lenz in a bookshop, while he’s visiting from Bordeaux. They talk about her work and meet again for coffee the next day. Over the next 10 months, Anna and Guillaume’s relationship remains strong, but she continues thinking about Thomas, contrasting Thomas’s quiet sensitivity with Guillaume’s virile, alpha nature. Anna and Thomas maintain sporadic contact through text messages, and it’s no surprise that the two eventually begin sleeping together. What makes Serre’s narrative so layered and complicated is the portrayal of Anna’s psyche: she dreads the prospect of either mourning her old life or possibly embarking on a new one (“Can you return to your origins?” Serre writes. “Not when you’ve been cast out like Eve, weeping, distraught, covering your face in shame in all those frescoes and paintings”). Serre deploys equally acute prose to unpack why Anna perceives a “wound” in Thomas, and why that makes him attractive. This turns a conventional story into something completely and deliciously new. (July)