Friday, 10 September 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Bonjour Tristesse

Dear Blog,
for once, a review I'm not writing in the middle of the night.  That makes a change. 

Name: Bonjour Tristesse (originally published with the same title)
Written by: Françoise Sagan
Originally Published in: French
Translated by: Irene Ash
Summary (from Goodreads): Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father's love life leads to tragic consequences. Freed from boarding school, Cécile lives in unchecked enjoyment with her youngish, widowed father -- an affectionate rogue, dissolute and promiscuous. Having accepted the constantly changing women in his life, Cécile pursues a sexual conquest of her own with a "tall and almost beautiful" law student. Then, a new woman appears in her father's life. Feeling threatened but empowered, Cécile sets in motion a devastating plan that claims a surprising victim. Deceptively simple in structure, Bonjour Tristesse is a complex and beautifully composed portrait of casual amorality and a young woman's desperate attempt to understand and control the world around her.

Review: I reserved this at the library after hearing that the author had written it aged eighteen after failing her exams.  Writers with such interesting stories interest me.  Often, I find, books with interesting authors are just published because of that, and then the books are terrible, but despite this I keep reading books with interesting and unique reasons for existence.
Anyway.  It's the shortest book that I've read since forever, so when it turned up at  the library I was all, "meh." I started reading it anyway, and how glad I am that I did. I was completely sucked in and had fleeting, unimportant things like rehearsals for shows and such gotten in the way then I'd have read the whole thing in one sitting.  Which in truth wouldn't be hard because it was so short, but anyway.

One of the reasons that Cécile, the protagonist, loathes her father's future wife so much is that she stands in the way of the fleeting, careless life that she shares with her father.  They're both quite happy driving around Paris in fast cars and going out every night and having flings (Raymond and Cécile's attitude towards unmarried sex made this pretty controversial back in 1954).  The spare yet vivid writing style fits their lives perfectly, and works well for the atmosphere that is the French Riviera at the height of summer. 

Cécile is both innocent yet an old head on young shoulders who doesn't want to be treated like a child.  I think Sagan's youth works well in that sense-they say write what you know, which is why Cécile is a believable character you're not sure whether you should love or hate (she's both a bit of a brat and a thoughtful sort of person.  Maybe both at once): one of those characters that you observe rather than live with.   It's interesting to watch her change throughout the book, despite how short it is; at the start she's a spoiled girl, and by the end she's a woman. Although it may be disguised by all that goes on in the book, she's really no different from any other teenage girl. 

Love is the main element of the book. I couldn't help but feel that with most of the drama set around Anne and Raymond, Cécile's relationship with a 26-year-old named Cyril.  It's mentioned a couple of times, but it's rushed and almost as if as soon as she meets him and they go sailing together, they're kissing and making love in the woods.  The focus is much more on the relationships between the adults in the book, and how Cécile
tries, and to a certain extent succeeds (but not the way you expect) to change everything.

And the ending? It was sad, but in truth, I sort of saw it coming.  It's not really that hard to work out that a book such as Bonjour Tristesse will have such a conclusion. Still, it was dramatic and wrapped things up nicely tragically, leaving few questions unanswered. 

In Three Words: sophisticated, dark, clever.
Reccomended for: every teenager- it's one of those books that will leave you slightly wiser and more aware of the world.
Rating: 4.5.  It's more than a mere beach read.

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