For the Classics Challenge 2016, February edition, I decided to hunt through my to read pile (part of my bid to spend less money on books by reading the ones I already have, rocket science, I know) and came up with Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. I may or may not have been swayed to choose this modern classic, ranked 41 in Le Monde’s 100 books of the century, because its short length matched the shortness of the month….
Bonjour Tristesse, narrated by seventeen year old Cecile, tells the events of a summer she spends on the French Riviera with her vain, self-indulgent father and his mistress, Elsa. When Anne, a family friend, comes to stay and threatens Cecile’s cosy, vapid existence and bourgeoning love affair with a local boy, she begins plotting to be rid of her.
As classics go, this novel is small but perfectly formed. Although she initially appears naïve and innocent, Cecile is one of the most detestable narrators I’ve ever encountered- loaded with a raging Electra complex, vindictive and self-excusing. The skill with which Sagan manipulates the reader’s feelings from supporting Cecile and seeing Anne as the villain of the piece at the novel’s opening to a total inversion of this by the end. When you consider that Sagan was only 18 when she wrote this novel… pretty incredible.
If you’re looking to dip a toe in the classics with an accessible read, or a fan of unreliable narrators and characters that you love to hate, this is a great read for you.
James and I both read this book in December – him in English, me in French – and I think your review would have made me enjoy it far more! I enjoyed reading it but my mixed feelings about Cecile show how I was clueless about the deliberate machinations of the author…
I might be attributing design to an accident, but I thought she was a horrible little brat! It did make me wonder whether elements of it were autobiographical (eg. Sagan writing the novel after failing her exams at the Sorbonne)… what was the quality of language like in French? I found the English translation a little stilted, but wasn’t sure how true to the original that was.