24 Mar 2011
Review: "Bonjour Tristesse" - The troubled teenager
I read this beautiful little novel on a sunny Saturday last week. It is set in a summer decades ago in the south of France and I read it lying on the floor in a patch of sunshine. We have panoramic windows in our flat and when the sun shone through them, it was warm and golden so that when I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine that it was summertime in France and not early spring in Scandinavia.
"Bonjour Tristesse" by Francoise Sagan is a classic, one of those books that have popped up on my book-radar several times over the years and after reading a review of it by Simon at Stuck in a Book, http://stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com/2011/02/from-mouths-of-babes.html. You should read his review, it is as always well-written.
Now there were several reasons why I wanted to read this:
1) It is set in France in the summer, the perfect escapism for someone like me who is craving sunshine
2) It caused a lot of controversy when it was published in 1954.
3) The author was 18 when she wrote it and it has become a classic
Cecile is a precocious teenage girl who lives with her Don Juan father Raymond whose goal in life seems to be staying forever 25. Togther they drift through a life of hedonism, partying and enjoying entertaining dinners. Raymond has a string of lady frinds that Cecile happily tolerates until the day one of the these relationships ends in a marriage proposal. Suddenly Cecile sees her days of indulgence disappear and be substituted by a life of routine and deference to her new step-mother. Therefore she concocts a scheme with her lover Cyril to scare off his fathers fiancée by tempting him into the arms of another woman.
This coming-of-age tale is brutal in its honest portrayal of Cecile. She is a selfish girl with little thought for anything but her own entertainment, however, as she is confronted with a different way of life where intelligence and cultured manners count more than good looks and youth, she sees the shallowness of the life that she is used to and it unsettles her. She is constantly veering between fighting and embracing change, not sure what she really wants to do with her life and in the end somebody else ends up paying the price for Cecile's actions.
I enjoyed reading it even though I found it difficult to like Cecile. It reminded me of one of my favourite films: "Pauline a la Plage" but where Pauline is a likeable clever young women who refuses to be caught in the games of the adults, Cecile is the opposite.
However, I think it will serve well as an antidote to much of the bad YA fiction on the market at the moment. It is not long so will not be too daunting for teenagers to read and I think it is an appropriate reminder of the consequences of not thinking about the consequences, wrapped up in a beautiful language and wonderful descriptions of the joys of summer in France.