Bonjour Tristesse

However many times the boyfriend has tried to get me to pick up Françoise Sagan’s debut novel, reading a book entitled ‘Hello Sadness‘ is always one, funnily enough, that I’ve always thought I needed to be in a very specific mood for. In the stress of picking out my choices for the Manchester Book Group (more on this soon!)  I thought I would be kind to myself and go for something short, sexy and French. Hoorah! Or hourra! as they might say …

The baby blue, freckly cover you see to your left has certainly never helped in persuading me to read this book, but as is often the case, upon finishing the last page I was ashamed it had passed me by until now. The characters we meet at the beginning of the story and their blessed surroundings – sunning themselves on the French Riviera – are delightfully light and airy, making the novel’s dark, twisted side all the more satisfying…

Seventeen year old Cécile is summering down south with her father Raymond; a man who seems to fancy himself as a quasi-bohemian Lothario-type, indulging in what he likes to think of as his ‘sinful’ ways, with a penchant for girls in their twenties. In short (and I’m sure many of his women feel the same way) an irrepressibly charming figure, although I know it doesn’t sound that way. Cécile herself, like most seventeen year olds, is incredibly naive, jealous and thinks herself to be far older and more mature than she actually is. The pair are joined by Raymond’s completely vacuous, though kindhearted girlfriend Elsa and Cyril, a young man who quickly captures Cécile’s heart and overactive imagination.

This rather innocent summer holiday is rapidly punctured by the arrival of Anne Larson, an educated, refined, cultured and rather serious woman, whose appearance on the scene severely disrupts the fine balance that has been established…with tragic consequences.

Although it may seem like an obvious way to describe something, Bonjour Tristesse felt like such a ‘complete’ novel, despite its brevity. Although I had heard wonderful things, I was still taken aback by how satisfied and moved I felt by the very end. The apparent superficiality of the main characters and their lifestyle acts as the perfect mask to a much deeper, darker realty. Although certain relationships and behaviour, particularly between Anne and Raymond, seemed to have appeared out of the blue at first, I did eventually manage to reconcile myself with the fact that we are being treated to a snapshot of the life of a small family here, with no real knowledge (although we do like to sumise) of what has come before or indeed what will happen afterwards…

The frivolity of Cécile and her father struck me as very tongue in cheek and, as a result, allowed me room to sympathise with them. Anne’s intrusive and supercilious behaviour frustrated me as much as it did Cécile, whose ‘bratishness’ simply didn’t! I surprise myself. Perhaps it’s because hot French people are almost allowed to be so precocious. I love them for it!

Françoise Sagan was eighteen when she wrote this book. A fact that I am still struggling to fully comprehend. Although it explains the devastatingly honest and accurate teenage character, it still doesn’t explain the complex emotions that are explored here and the pure ease with which she writes and with which we, in turn, read. In the wake of reading this book, it is the unconventional father/daughter relationship which really interests me. Is she merely the spoilt child of a wealthy, liberal man with too much time on his hands, or is there something a little more subversive going on?  I’d love to know what you all think because Sagan may just be a little too subtle for me on that front…

8 thoughts on “Bonjour Tristesse

  1. I've heard many good things about this book but like you have always been intimidated by the title. Thank you for such a compelling review! When I read the book I'll come back and let you know my thoughts about Raymond's and Cecile's relationship (a nice teaser, by the way).

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  2. Yes do, I'd love to hear what you think! I thought it was great and now can't believe it took so long for me to pick it up! It is nice and short too so not too much of a commitment to make 🙂

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  3. Hello! I've just found your blog via the lovely Simon so thought I'd have a nosey around. I read this book about 2 years ago and loved it too. Isn't it incredible to know how old she was when she wrote it? I have also read Sunlight on Water since and that was great too – Sagan really understand people.

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  4. Hullo! Lovely to see you here 🙂 (and discover your own lovely blog as well!) I just think it's absolute madness that she was so young when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse – although I think it does explain how Cécile is such a convincing character. I'll take your recommendation because I'm itching for more Sagan now; was the perfect introduction to wet my appetite…

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