Friday, October 23, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Bonjour, Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

One of the books I wanted to read after Au Revoir, Tristesse, was the main book that inspired Viv Groskop: Bonjour, Tristesse by Françoise Sagan. A novella written by the seventeen-year-old Sagan, it launched the career of the author and the cult of personality surrounding her.

The protagonist, Cécile, is a seventeen-year-old girl living with her widowed father after a stint in a convent school. He is a shallow skirt-chaser trying to hold onto his own youth. He does love his daughter, but is happy to have her follow in his carefree, self-indulgent footsteps. They embark on a two-month summer vacation in a rented villa on the Mediterranean, along with her father’s current mistress, a young woman named Elsa. 

Things are progressing happily and lazily. Cécile meets a young law student named Cyril who is summering in a nearby villa, who teaches her to sail. He’s rather an upright young man, but they have a strong physical attraction that grows as time goes on. They eventually become lovers.

Things change abruptly with the arrival of Anne, an old friend of Cécile’s deceased mother, who is organized, morally strict, and conventional. It surprises Cécile to discover the woman is in love with her footloose father. The woman’s calm, measured, grown-up behavior, along with her mature beauty, catch the father’s attention. Before long, he transfers his affection from Elsa to Anne. This is not out of character for him, since he never sticks with one woman for long. But what is out of character is the sudden announcement that he is going to marry Anne.

Cécile is horrified. She doesn’t want the dull, conventional life that she and her father will be doomed to live as “Anne’s husband” and “Anne’s step-daughter.” Even though she does admire Anne and, at times, appreciates the woman’s goodness and forebearance, Cécile doesn’t want her coming between her and her father. She doesn’t want to live a conventional life, and can’t believe her father would be happy either. So, Cécile sets out to sabotage the relationship. She works to bring Elsa back into the picture, knowing her father will inevitably cheat on Anne. 

While it’s tempting to see Cécile as a horrid, spoiled, jealous child – which she is – she also comes across as pitiable. The story is seen from Cécile’s point of view, which is full of contradictory emotions and confusion. Her actions stem from an emotional stuntedness and an adolescent narrowness of focus. The universe revolves around Cécile. She revels in her power and is terrified by it. She regrets the outcome she engineers even as she continues to press for it. Throw in an element of Fate, and the results are even worse than Cécile plotted. She will move on, but she won’t ever be able to forget what happened, or to return to the unencumbered “happiness” of her previous life.

This is a very quick, straight-forward read with surprising depth.

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