01 July 2011

My Thoughts on Francoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse


Title: Bonjour Tristesse
Author: Francoise Sagan
Publisher: Ecco
Date: 1955 og.  This edition is 2001.
Genre: Novella, literary fiction, in translation.

130 pages.
Where I got it: Traded for it at Bookmans.
Challenges: None.




I found, beyond the very real physical pleasure of love, a kind of intellectual pleasure in thinking about it.  The words "to make," material and positive, united with the poetical abstraction of the word "love," enchanted me.

According to the introduction by Diane Johnson in my edition of this lovely little novella, Francoise Sagan was seventeen when she wrote it.  (I don't recommend reading Johnson's introduction before you read the text, it contains a major spoiler.)  The writer's age explains in part how she so accurately captures Cecile, her teenage protagonist, and hits exactly the right note - apathy without affectation - to capture the emotional maelstrom of late adolescence.

The book takes place mostly during a seaside vacation.  Cecile and her  playboy, single father, along with his flavor of the moment, too young girlfriend, leave Paris for the summer.  It turns out that Cecile's father has also invited an old family friend, Anne, who helped to care for Cecile after the death of her mother.  Eventually, Anne and Cecile's father fall into a relationship, the young mistresses Elsa falls to the wayside, and the dynamic of all of the other relationships in the book undergo a major shift.  Cecile sees Anne's effect on her father and states thus:
Nevertheless he cheerfully prepared to abandon Bohemianism, and began to preach order, to extol the joys of a cultivated, well-organized, bourgeois existence. No doubt for him, as for me, all these plans were just castles in the air.

Cecile begins to experience some serious ambivalence towards Anne, shifting between jealousy and adoration.  She is herself having an affair of sorts with a local, of which Anne sternly disapproves, although Cecile knows that her father would not have batted an eye.  This reaction is a symptom of the change in her situation with which she struggles to come to terms. Then some big stuff happens and I won't spoil it, but I will say that Sagan creates in her situation a wonderful metaphor for that late August of adolescence, on the cusp of the Fall of adulthood, where Cecile finds herself.  In moments where the book feels light and airy, like a vacation, the smothering heat and malaise that lies underneath is never far.  In the end, Sagan charmed me with her language, and made me think. 

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow.  The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow.  Today it envelopes me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.

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