Convinced by a blurb that said ‘Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cecile’, I swiftly hit the buy button on an online store but was quiet disappointed when the book arrived at my doorstep – it looked too small for the price paid. But the reader in me took solace in the fact that perhaps it could serve as a good travel partner, just the right size to carry around in a small backpack for an upcoming trip.
The guess was quite right, it took about two hours to finish the little novel, perhaps even lesser. It was a bright, sunny, almost silly read, with the story taking you to the shores of France, to a different century, with a protagonist who can no longer shock a world that is used to its teens shunning love and choosing ‘quick flings’ on dating sites. Cecile, the heroine is only 17 and is taken care of by her father Raymond, a ‘libertine’, who changes women as soon he is bored with the last one. But he holds no double-standards when it comes to his young beautiful daughter either, and lets her go on dates with whoever she pleases. They are almost like siblings – immature, materialistic and free-spirited.
Their word changes when Raymond becomes serious about Anne, a woman his age, who unlike the sensualist father-daughter duo, is grounded, intelligent and not an admirer of their frivolous lifestyle. Cecile plots to part the two, so that her life remains unchanged, but is not prepared for the tragic consequences her interference can cause. While there isn’t enough space in the novel for in-depth character development, Anne is perhaps one of the strongest characters written by the author in the tale. At one point it almost felt like a Shakespearean tragic-comedy, but it’s narration, sexual tones and light-hardheartedness sets it apart from a classic Elizabethan play.
‘Bonjouir Tristesse’ reads like a diary of a teenager, with all the confusion and superficial sense of superiority youngsters can have due to their youth. Cecile cannot decide if she wants to grow into a degenerate like her father, or be molded by the almost perfect Anne – who could bring in a solemn stability to their lives. Like most teenagers, our protagonist too indulges in reckless decisions, only to regret them moments later. It has a swift, quite unexpected climax, the kinds you can predict only minutes before it happens. The pace is like a car slowly winding around a beautiful hill, as the passengers take in the lovely view, and then it gathers speed suddenly, crashing into an inevitable end.
As soon as I finished reading the novel, I decided I would give it a 5/5, because as a reader it’s hard to complain about anything in this flawed tale. It’s a quick, engaging book and what impressed me further was that the author Francoise Sagan was only 18 when she wrote the book.
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