I Will Not Serve by Eveline Mahyère – and a challenge completed

Virago Modern Classic #142

In 1957 Eveline Mahyère died by her own hand. The was thirty-two and she he left behind this, her only novel.

It is an extraordinarily vivid piece of work.

Sylvie is seventeen years old. She is bright, but she is also rebellious and impetuous. And she has been expelled from her convent school just three months before she is due to take her Baccalaureate.

Why? Because Sylvie has fallen passionately and obsessively in love with Julienne. A nun, and her teacher.

“I shall only discover my life through you Julienne, and thanks to you. It’s been said only too often that love is the main preoccupation of women. But, for me, love is you.”

Set adrift, Sylvies’ feelings for Julienne grow. The love of God that was encouraged in the convent has come to life in Sylvie. Not though as love for God. As love for Julienne. Sylvie veers between ecstacy and despair.

“What could a passer-by do – come to her aid, take her to hospital? No charitable sould could have understood the absence of Julienne. People pity a man who falls from scaffolding, a woman who loses her husband. Because they suffer? No, because they have the right to suffer.”

And Julienne? How does she respond? First she follows the counsel of herconvent and remains silent. But as Sylvie persists she reaches out to her and tries to help. But does she really understand? Can she really help Sylvie?

It seems not.

Sylvie’s story is evocative and oh so moving. It is told by omniscient narrator and brought to life by interjections from Sylvie. Her journal. Her letters – to Julienne and to her cousin Claude.

So much is said to about love, religion, obsession, compassion and understanding.

It works wonderfully. Because the writing is lovely and Sylvie’s voice is so true.

I suspect that she will continue to haunt me.

Translated by Antonia White


And the completed challenge?


Lost In Translation – six books in translation.

My original plan was six books in six languages, but I changed direction. I found a few French books I wanted to read and so I decided to go for six in that one language, but six different translators. 

I did it!

Here’s the list:

I can’t pick one favourite – they are fairly diverse and each has its own virtues.

And this is the rest of my reading in translation:

  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norwegian – translated by Anne Born)
  • The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg (Swedish – translated by Steven T Murray)
  • The Paris Enigma by Pablo de Santis (Portugese – translated by Mara Lethem)
  • The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg (Swedish – translated by Steven T Murray)
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson (Swedishtranslated by Reg Keeland)
  • Unseen by Mari Jungstedt (Swedish – translated by Tiina Nunnally)
  • The Pyramid by Henning Mankell (Swedishtranslated by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson)
  • The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt (Dutch – translated by Michelle Hutchison)
  • Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli (Italian – translated by Oonagh Stransky)
  • Chess by Stefan Zweig (German – translated by Anthea Bell)
  • Little Indiscretions by Carmen Posadas (Portugese – translated by Christopher Andrews)

There are some wonderful books in there!

Thank you to Frances for hosting!