I first heard of Bonjour Tristesse through a review at Literary Relish (which I highly suggest you read!) and after that, reviews started popping up on other blogs all over the Internet. The plot sounded intriguing and so when I saw it on the shelf at Oxfam, I took it as a sign.
It’s a very small book and reminds me a bit of another skinny, French novel by Colette. Written ten years after Gigi, Bonjour Tristesse also revolves around a rebellious girl, living an odd – and in those times shocking – lifestyle. In Cécile’s case however, the lifestyle is a luxury of endless lazy days and late night parties. Since her mother’s death a couple of years earlier, she’s been living with her libertine father, Raymond. Together they are happy taking life as it comes and enjoying every moment.
When I read the back of the book, I was worried that the plot might have a slight ‘Lolita’ type angle, but luckily it’s nothing of the sort, unless something went way over my head!
Raymond and Cécile are spending a long summer on the French Riviera with the father’s latest fling, Elsa. Her father’s long string of short-lived girlfriends doesn’t bother Cécile one bit, but when it’s announced that her mother’s old friend will be joining the trio, she’s not so happy. To say she admires Anne would be an understatement. Cécile shows a strong reverence for the woman who took her in hand before she lived with her father, dressing her in the right clothes and teaching her about life. However, Anne’s elegant and dignified manner would not do to join them on their lazy holiday. Everything would change.
When Anne shows up, things do indeed begin to fall apart and soon Elsa is driven away, leaving Cécile alone with the sudden news that Raymond and Anne are engaged to be married. This comes as a shock. It seems that there’s a history between them unknown to both our heroine and the reader. Life for Cécile has gone from one long holiday, to a more structured and tedious existence. Even her summer romance with the handsome university student Cyril is effected. Torn between a confusion of emotions, Cécile eventually turns to scheming and plotting, trying to go back to the way things were before.
Cécile’s character is a very convincing portrayal of a spoilt teenager. She’s naive, selfish and moody, but I still sympathise with her. Perhaps it’s because my teenage years aren’t that far behind me. Mix in the character of Anne, herself a conniver, but with more sophistication, and I can truly see why Cécile might start to act out. To me, Anne’s character is suffocating and overstepping the line, even if her heart is in the right place. I will have to put this book aside and bring it out in a couple of decades and see if my opinion changes.
That this novella was written by Sagan when she was only eighteen or nineteen, I find almost unbelievable. The writing switches from beautifully stirring prose to a confused and emotional stream of consciousness. Sagan captures the unbearable feelings of youth and the calm, sad voice of retrospect, as Cécile looks back at that eventful summer. The first paragraph alone will pull you in, describing perfectly feelings that are very difficult to get across
“A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. To-day something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me.”
This book covers many of the topics you would find in a ‘coming of age’ tale; sexual desire, tension in the family, emotions running high. But there is something more to this book, whether it’s the beautiful writing, or the character herself, I’m not sure, but there is a disturbing undercurrent throughout that leaves you feeling emotionally drained.
If you would like to buy your own copy of this fantastic read, click on the picture below.