cover image A Leopard-Skin Hat

A Leopard-Skin Hat

Anne Serre, trans. from the French by Mark Hutchinson. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (122p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3451-1

Serre’s searching, poignant latest (after The Beginners) depicts the complex relationship between a man called the Narrator and a woman named Fanny, who remains inscrutable to the Narrator after her death at age 43. The Narrator and Fanny meet and become close friends in childhood, and as adults readers see them traveling to the countryside, going on walks, and playing ludo in the middle of the night. The Narrator remembers small details about Fanny, like how cautiously she changed gears when driving, and the fact that her big toe was “conspicuously longer than the next.” But Fanny is defined by “an absence”: the Narrator describes her as “at once there and not there.” And though he “talked to rouse her, to keep her alive and in the real world, to bring her round from her dreams,” the Narrator’s efforts, ultimately, are for naught. Serre’s novel memorably evokes the slippery nature of Fanny’s character in its snapshot-like structure: rather than a more conventional and chronological arc, the story progresses along the winding routes of the Narrator’s ruminations. Readers will be moved by this probing story about the unknowability of others. (Sept.)