Bonjour Tristesse

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Read 30/08/2016-31/08/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Olympic Challenge

The cover of this translation of Françoise Sagan’s classic coming of age tale has a quote that calls it thoroughly immoral. The back of the book tells me that it scandalised 1950s France with the main character’s rejection of conventional notions of love.

What was love like in 1950s France, then? What’s immoral about finding pleasure in desire and enjoyment in sex?

Cécile is not long out of convent school. Her mother is dead and she barely knows her father, but they are peas in a pod. Hedonists who spend each summer basking in the Riviera sun, socialising and finding distraction in love affairs.

Sagan was 18 when she wrote the book, and her eye for the transition from youth to adulthood is precise. There is nothing flowery or romantic about her writing, but the book is more beautiful for that. Her style made me think of Fitzgerald, but I liked Sagan more. She brought some Flannery O’Connor to the mix.

Far From being immoral, the book explores what it means to be a pleasure seeker, and throws light on what love means to different people. Cécile and her father Raymond are a particular type of pleasure seeker. They are almost lazy in the way they move from moment to moment. There is a languorous air about them. Love is a trifle, born of the moment, and gone as soon as something more distracting comes along. Raymond could be a tragic character, but he is drawn so sympathetically by Sagan that he isn’t to be pitied. Cécile is a set of contradictions, a woman in the forming, and I enjoyed watching her change.

Of the other main characters, Raymond’s lover Elsa is gauche and foolish, living off her looks. Cécile’s lover Cyril is traditional, and quickly decides Cécile is marriage material. Anne is something different. Cool and crisp, she weighs the world and pursues what she thinks is the best option in a given set of circumstances. She isn’t calculating. She is practical.

It’s only a short book, but it drew me in.

 

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