Saturday, February 28, 2009

'Bonjour Tristesse'

by Françoise Sagan
Fiction, 1954
Penguin (Great Loves collection), mm pb, 112 p.
Translated from the French by Irene Ash
Love can be complicated.
Cécile leads a hedonistic, frivolous life with her father and his young mistresses. On holiday in the South of France, she is seduced by the sun, the sand and her first lover. But when her father decides to remarry, their carefree existence becomes clouded by tragedy.
This is one of those classic stories where I knew the title but not really what it was about, so I began this slim novel (novella?) without any real expectations, and quite enjoyed it.

It’s a coming of age story that isn’t nearly so scandalous as it was at the time, but it’s still an interesting portrayal of the selfishness of youth, set in the beautiful French Riviera. Cécile is a shallow, annoying teenager, but considering the author herself was only 18 when she wrote this, it comes off as very realistic. So even though I didn’t really like the character of Cécile, or any of the others for that matter, and as it’s only too late that she realizes the consequences of her actions so that it was a little like watching a slow motion train crash, I had to read on.

Despite the smooth translation though, I can’t help feeling that it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi that would make reading it in the original French a more engaging experience. Perhaps I’ll try someday. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind reading something else by Sagan. Hesperus Press (I really wish they’d get their website back up!) has one, The Unmade Bed, which I’m now eyeing quite lustfully.

Article on the author in The New York Times

First sentence: A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#9 for 2009, 1% Well-Read Challenge)

Have you read and reviewed this title? Let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. This sounds like something I'd enjoy. And wow, look at that pretty!

  2. This story sounds so familiar... Is there also a movie made out of this?

    Hesperus Press web site is still down? It was down a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for some books. Weird.

  3. Hello - it's Ellie here from Hesperus. Just wanted to let you know that we're currently thinking through the final design of our website, and it'll all be up and running again very soon.

    Thanks for your interest in the Press! Our books are still available from Amazon and The Book Depository, and the Sagan is a particularly beautiful one...

  4. Nymeth - It's part of the Great Loves series from Penguin and the covers are all really pretty. You can see them here.

    Iliana - There is a movie. I haven't seen it, but I'd like to now. It seems like the Hesperus website has been down for months. Good news though - did you see Ellie's comment below?

    Ellie - Thanks for stopping by to let me know that the website will be back up again soon. I do usually buy them from The Book Depository but I miss being able to browse all your back titles, or to see what's new, so I'm looking forward to the site relaunch. The Sagan does look wonderful and thank you for the recent catalogue, I have a few from it that I'm coveting as well.

  5. I've never heard of this book. I'm especially curious though since it was written by an 18 year old and is considered a classic. Thanks for the great review, Nat.

  6. Wendy - It's only a little over 100 pages so it's a very quick read, if you do decide to try it. It apparently became quite popular in France after it was published. And the author lived quite a colourful life!

  7. This one sounds good. And with Nymeth, I'm drawn to the cover.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  8. Anna - The cover has a slightly rough texture to it, it's not glossy smooth. Anyway, it is very pretty.


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