This is a short French novella, and I really feel like I have read a LOT of these this year, from 1992. It’s a kind of fable, kind of parable, about a group of three governesses working for a young well-off Parisian family. The way in which this novel is primarily told is through an act of voyeurism. We are constantly being shown what is happening and we are treated as witnesses to those events. So there’s often an image or a sight to take in, there’s action, and through a kind of arms’ length narration style we are told to observe (though not directly told). What we see is the various doings of the governesses as they work with the family. However, this airy tone and lightness gives way as the governesses become the purveyor’s of a kind of bacchanal or Dionysian feasting of lovers they take on. This most reminds of a kind of story like say Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog and other short stories that spend a lot of time painting a picture. It then takes that idea and turns it on its head into the kind of farcical and over the top imagery that results from our gaze.
It’s not the most successful of novellas because once revealed, the central conceit immediately loses power. This is the kind of story that could have made a really successful short story that works through all the same issues and ideas, but uses the starkness of the reveal and a healthy dose of brevity to paint a more impactful moment at the end of a story, rather than a blip a third the way through.