Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) was a gift from my beautiful British pen friend, Pippa and I had been saving it for a Paris in July event. I’m so glad I did – it just felt like such a “French” book that needed to be read with the right (i.e French!) frame of mind.
The book was written by 18 year old Francoise Sagan in the 1950’s, apparently after failing her exams at the Sorbonne (that’s the way to show your teachers – write a highly acclaimed novel!). The narrator is 17 year old Cecile – a young woman who has just left the confines of a convent school education to spend time with her hedonistic father and his latest lover on the French Riviera. Cecile herself meets a young man who leads her to explore her own sexuality and feelings and thoughts about love and relationships. Enter an old friend of her mother’s who lays claim to Cecile’s father causing her to reflect on her own position in his life and how it might be impacted by the arrival of this woman.
It all sounds so simple, and possibly simplistic but this book feels anything but. Cecile draws the reader into her often juvenile thinking and forces us to see things from her perspective. I always envy a writer who can create a character with this power. Even though I know some of Cecile’s thoughts and behaviours are ridiculous I am on her side, I want to hear and see more from her – she is captivating in her authenticity. Any person who has struggled with those emotions that go with a first love will be with Cecile – she has world wide appeal!
The essence of summer in France is felt through the pages of the book too and even though the majority of the book is not set in Paris it is clearly there:
In Paris there was no time for reading: after lectures my friends hurried me off to cinemas; they were surprised to find that I did not even know the actors’ names. I sat on sunny cafe terraces, I savoured the pleasure of drifting along with the crowds, of having a drink, of being with someone who looks into your eyes, holds your hand, and then leads you far away from those same crowds.
As the title clearly suggests the book ends with tragedy – but don’t so many of the wonderful love stories in literature? Thank you to Pippa for sending me such a beautiful, sad and captivating book.
Has anyone else read Bonjour Tristesse? What is your favourite Parisian/French love story?