This is a fantastic book. Read it immediately.
As I mentioned yesterday, Sagan wrote this book when she was 18, which I think contributed to the success of this story. We meet our protagonist, 17-year old Cecile, on summer vacation with her father just outside of Paris. Egotistical, endearing and very spoiled, Cecile fears "boredom and tranquility more than anything else". Jealous of her father's relationships with mature and rational women, Cecile plans to destroy them in an effort to keep her father all to herself. Sagan opens her novella with the lines:
"A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of it's complete egotism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow."
Of course the title, Bonjour Tristesse, is French for "Hello Sadness," so we know where the story is headed.
Sagan handles Cecile's transformation from a self-absorbed, disillusioned youth to a more mature and effected young girl realistically. We are introduced to a typical 17-year-old girl, one who admits, "I dare say I owed most of my pleasures of that period to money; the pleasure of driving fast in a high-powered car, of buying new records, books, flowers. Even now I am not ashamed of indulgent in these pleasures. In fact, I just take them for granted." We leave her after she has said "hello" to sadness. However, I'm not sure we are meant to understand Cecile has truly grown up. I think she is effected, but still enjoys her frivolous relationships and material things. Yes she has said Bonjour to sadness, but I don't believe she has gotten to know it very well. As Cecile puts it, "Unaccustomed to introspection, I was completely lost". All in all, the story moves along with ease and nothing really seems contrived.
I also loved the setting of the novel. Not only the beaches outside of Paris but the period charm of the 1950's. A time when it didn't matter that everyone smoked and drank too much whiskey. When socializing and tanning were summer activities of the utmost importance.
"I was nailed to the sand by all the strength of summer heat - my arms were like lead, my mouth dry."
Like The Elegance of the Hedgehog, this book is undeniably French. I recommend this to anyone who loves French literature or hated The Catcher and The Rye because it seemed contrived. If you have ever acted selfishly against your better judgement you will be able to relate to this novel. A true memento mori.
I'm looking forward to reading more Sagan and I think I'll start with her second novel, A Certain Smile.
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Year of First Edition: 1954