Wednesday, October 14, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Au Revoir, Tristesse. Lessons on Happiness from French Literature by Viv Groskop

Au Revoir, Tristesse. Lessons on Happiness from French Literature by Viv Groskop grabbed my interest when I saw the title. Surely, I thought, this must be ironic. The last place I would go for happiness lessons would be French literature. 

But the author is in earnest. The book is a guided stroll through some of the best known French novels with an explanation of what each teaches about different facets of happiness.


Viv Groskop is an Englishwoman who yearned, from a young age, to be French. The book is part memoir, as she explains her youthful love affair with the French language, literature, and culture, while looking back at it from a more mature perspective. Along the way, she introduces the reader to a dozen novels (some/many of which are rather depressing or alienating in the main) picking out the silver linings to demonstrate a happy message contained within. It’s a refreshing outlook. Moreover, it made me want to delve into a couple of novels I’ve never read and re-read a couple that I have.

Groskop is a journalist and comedian, so the writing style is light-hearted and comic. It can get to be a bit too much, as the author drives home, in each chapter, how absorbed she was in her project to become French before she realized that was impossible, and, by the way, she can speak French really, really well. But that’s nit-picky on my part, and probably just jealousy because I can’t.

In short, this is a fun book about books.