Book of books – Bonjour Tristesse

It is hard to believe that Francois Sagan was not too far off the age of the central character Cecile, who is 17 in the story, when she wrote this book because it has the wisdom of a much older author and the ability to disturb you in a profound way. In a nutshell this is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover because it is far from the dreamy easily digestible love story that you first imagine it might be and has a real edge to it and a finale that leaves you thinking for quite a while afterwards.

plot summary
Cecile and her widowed father have a particularly strong relationship after the 17 year old girl comes out her convent education at 15 and spends a couple of hedonistic years sharing her fathers life, friendships and adult world. They decide to go on holiday with his current mistress Elsa but things are complicated when an old family friend Anne Larsen turns up and after elbowing out Elsa becomes engaged to the father. Fearing that her life is about to be destroyed by routine and boredom Cecile conspires with Elsa and her holiday boyfriend Cyril to get her father jealous. It works and in a gripping finale Anne discovers the father kissing his old mistress in the woods, jumps into her car and ends up driving off a cliff. After a period of reflection the father and daughter pair return to their hedonistic lives leaving not just Anne but also Cyril and Elsa as victims.

Is it well written?
if Sartre is about philosophy then this is about psychology with the moral being that it is dangerous to meddle with other people’s feelings and minds. It is a great story because you cannot see the end coming. You understand that a ‘tragedy’ is on the horizon but you suspect it is much more likely to be Cecile being discovered as the lynchpin of the Elsa conspiracy rather than Anne dying. There are some really clever exchanges between Cecile and Anne about the need to think about the future as opposed to living for the day and it is those thoughts and sentiments as well as a few ponderings on the arrogance of youth, that you ultimately get out of this book.

is it worth reading?
because of the questions it forces you to confront it is definitely worth picking up and at just aver 100 pages it is a quick read, even if the themes live with you longer. It is a book that I suspect would get different reactions depending on your age with the young sympathising with Cecile and the middle aged nodding along with Anne’s arguments and no doubt those in their twilight years just concluding that meddling between a man and a woman is something that should always be avoided.

leads to
This reminded me a great deal of The Great Gatsby, because of the games people play on both books. Picking up on that theme it does have an American feel to it, maybe it is no coincidence that Anne is driving a large American convertible and so as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald there are echoes of other books of the 1930s.

version read – penguin paperback

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