4 July 2016

Review #477: Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, Irene Ash (Translator)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"L’amour fait les plus grandes douceurs et les plus sensibles infortunes de la vie."

English translation: "Love makes the greatest pleasures and most sensitive misfortunes of life."

----Madeleine de Scudery

Françoise Sagan, an award-winning French novelist, has created an uproar in the French literary world as well as in the French community, with her debut novel, Bonjour Tristesse that has been translated into English by Irene Ash, after its crazy popularity and scandal, that earned Sagan a reputable spot in the literary world. Sagan was barely eighteen when she published her first novel featuring a teenage girl flying away freely with love, physical intimacy, carelessness, promiscuity and other such immoral acts, on the pretext of her father's engagement with rather young mistresses.


'Late into the night we talked of love, of its complications. In my father's eyes they were imaginary. . . This conception of rapid, violent and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love.'

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cécile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cécile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences.

Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Cécile, a 17-year old unstable teenager, who after failing her exams, goes on a lavish Mediterranean vacation trip to Côte d'Azur with her equally reckless, widowed and Don Juankind father and his young mistress, Elsa. Cécile soon jumps into a summer romance with an older yet handsome man, Cyril, who loved her madly. Although, Cécile confessed that she was never in love with him, only with the idea of physical intimacy, care and warmth shared by that man, while her father was busy with the young woman. Cécile's carefree summer days are soon disrupted by the arrival of her deceased mother's long time friend, Anne, who is a woman of class with education, self-respect and her own independence that rather intimidated the young girl, Cécile. Anne soon launches herself up to mother and take care of Cécile's future and her education by putting an end to the whirlwind summer romance with Cyril. And within few days, Cécile's nightmares turn out to be true when her father announces that he will marry Anne as he is madly in love with her. Unable to take the news and the thought of Anne disrupting the slightly carnal relationship between her father and herself, she decides to tear Anne's relationship with her father by using Cyril and Elsa's false love affair to invoke jealousy in her father. But does she succeed?

This is not a joy ride to read this overripe account of a bored and very, very dull 17-year old teenage girl who is a rich, spoilt brat, but think again, this has been written by someone who is of same age as the protagonist, so you can't expect any literary creativity from the young author. So how did the novel create so much noise in the literary world? Very simple answer, mainly because of its unconventional approach and nature of a French teenage girl's lifestyle that broke all the social norms thus making it s popular book. Yeah something like Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

So why bore oneself by reading about a barely eighteen year old's carnal and jealous desires? If you have wasted your money on buying this book, otherwise, there is no such major reason to read this extremely stupid book. Okay, let's no be harsh here, I mean can you imagine yourself in penning a classic literary masterpiece at the age of 18? If the answer is no, then find some time to get your hands on this book to imagine that!

The writing style is not that polished, yet very articulate that readers can easily comprehend with. The narrative is quite dull and at times bit baffling with the complexity involved in the dialogues. The story is narrated from a 17 year old teenager's voice and through her perspective, the readers are forced to form an opinion on other characters in the book. The pacing is really fast and over a large tumbler of hot coffee, this can be easily read in just one sitting. The story flows freely as Cécile jumps from one hedonistic act to another and the readers, here, might feel arrested to her life story.

The French backdrop is extremely alluring and vividly painted into the canvas of this story, where the author has captured a France's glamorous beach villa, the lifestyle of the posh, aristocrat and rich French folks, the then culture as well as the sandy blue and golden landscapes that will instantly transport the readers to this exotic and filthy rich destination where these days the who's who of A-class Hollywood celebrities to world class politicians take a vacation.

The characters in this book are very stereotypical and extremely unreal. And also they are not that well-developed with their flaws or multiple layers, instead they are very much one-dimensional, and in word, each and every character is witless like the main character, Cécile, is witless enough to scheme a devious plan to put an end to her father's relationship with the woman who simply asked her to study instead of wasting her time with Cyril, Anne is witless enough to jump into some life changing decisions, Cyril is witless enough to fall for Cécile's stupid plan, Elsa is extremely witless and has no intelligence or never uses her own brain as she lives on the money provided to her by rich and old French men, and Raymond, Cécile's father is another witless man who has forgotten that he even has a daughter as he is so busy in frivolities with silly women.

In a nutshell, the story is slightly compelling enough to keep the readers engaged and the book definitely deserves a 3-star rating mainly because this piece of fiction has been produced by an eighteen year old young lady whose life drastically changes after selling her debut book, let's just say her life became a train of unhappy events after another, except money that never left her side, drowning her into the dark world of gambling, fast cars, alcohol, drugs, lavish mansion and lots of love affairs both with men and women.

Verdict: A sardonic tale that breaks the conventional norms for a young woman in a French society.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from Penguin India for giving me the opportunty to read and review this book.

Author Info:
Born Françoise Quoirez, she grew up in a French, Catholic, bourgeois family. She was an independent thinker and avid reader as a young girl, and upon failing her examinations for continuing at the Sorbonne, she became a writer.
She went to her family's home in the south of France and wrote her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, at age 18. She submitted it to Editions Juillard in January 1954 and it was published that March. Later that year, She won the Prix des Critiques for Bonjour Tristesse.
She chose "Sagan" as her pen name because she liked the sound of it and also liked the reference to the Prince and Princesse de Sagan, 19th century Parisians, who are said to be the basis of some of Marcel Proust's characters.
She was known for her love of drinking, gambling, and fast driving. Her habit of driving fast was moderated after a serious car accident in 1957 involving her Aston Martin while she was living in Milly, France.
She was twice married and divorced, and subsequently maintained several long-term lesbian relationships. First married in 1958 to Guy Schoeller, a publisher, they divorced in 1960, and she was then married to Robert James Westhoff, an American ceramicist and sculptor, from 1962 to 63. She had one son, Denis, from her second marriage.
She won the Prix de Monaco in 1984 in recognition of all of her work.
Visit her here

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