Goodreads Review — Françoise Sagan’s “Bonjour Tristesse”

Bonjour tristesseBonjour tristesse by Françoise Sagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cecile is seventeen years old. Released from her life at school into the arms of her rakish, widowed father, she follows him to parties and on holidays, watching on as he lives with and beds one woman after another. Cecile finds the life she leads simple and gay; one party after another, a relaxed father, no pressures, no ambitions, nothing except a mildly hedonistic existence.

During the summer,  a long holiday is taken at the coast. Cecile’s father, Raymond, brings with him his latest lover, Elsa. Elsa has simple desires, and Cecile gets on with her.

After enjoying their holiday for a couple of weeks, a visitor surprises them — Anne, a friend of Raymond’s. Anne, who has known the family for some time, has been keeping a friendly, maternal eye on Cecile as she has grown.

However, Anne has designs of her own — on Cecile’s father. And although Cecile likes Anne, sometimes even admires her intelligence and style, she knows that if Anne were to marry Raymond, the world she has come to know — of fun and indolence and frivolity– will also end. Cecile must, therefore, ensure her father and Anne do not form a lasting relationship.

The story is told from Cecile’s point of view, and her schemes and machinations are the subject of the middle of the book. We also discover how Cecile feels about herself, and her burgeoning awareness of her power as a Machiavellian manipulator of those about her. That the results of her schemes might not bring the return of the simple life she knows and desires is hinted at in the title – Hello, sadness.

A rather breathless contemporary review on the back cover notes that the sexual revolution starts with Francois Sagan‘s novel; yet this is to claim too much. In the novel, the promiscuity of Raymond and his friends is taken for granted, indicating that Sagan was perhaps already aware of such behaviour, at least among the Parisienne set. The sexual revolution was perhaps already underway; or, perhaps, journalists had simply found a new name for existing behaviours.

This was Sagan’s first novel, and is so short it is almost a novella. The novel is, in translation at least, an easy read with an urgent impetus. Cecile, Anne and Raymond are well drawn; and if the minor characters feel rather more loosely constructed, it is, after all, the dynamic between Cecile and Anne that is central to the narrative.

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