I don’t remember the impetus behind my finally buying a copy of Bonjour Tristesse, but I’m glad I did. Honestly it sat on my shelf for a long time – there are too many new books! – but deciding to do TBR20 made me pick it up again. I have a beautiful PMC edition whose cover promises romance, mystery, and lots of French sexiness.
Gorgeous, isn’t it? I love these new editions with the white band at the top and bottom. This photo is also a really excellent choice for Bonjour Tristesse – a young woman and a (possibly older) man, sheltering her. Youth is so important to this story, in all its forms. Anyway. It’s a lovely book throughout, and Sagan’s language is simultaneously easy to read and elegant, charming, particularly when our narrator Cecile muses on herself:
I do believe that most of the things I took pleasure in during that period [in Paris with her father] simply came down to money – the pleasure of fast driving, of having a new dress, of enjoying those shallow pleasures, and anyway I only call them shallow because I’ve heard people say they are. It would come more naturally to me to regret or disown any distress or fits of mysticism I may have had. My love of pleasure and happiness constitutes the only consistent aspect of my character. Perhaps I haven’t read enough.
In passages like this Cecile seems remarkably self-aware for a seventeen-year-old (though she may be a little older when writing her reflections, but not by much). It’s moments like this that really made me fond of Cecile, and made me marvel at the duality of simple/complicated in this book. If you recount the plot, it is simple, but there are a million small, human, moments that perfectly demonstrate how difficult it can be to be young, to be jealous, to have desires. I was fascinated by Cecile’s relationship with her father and their dependence on each other. They are sort of like a platonic husband and wife, living life firmly together, and tolerating each other’s relationships whilst still wanting each other to be happy. The lack of Cecile’s mother is vital. It means that she takes that position of her father’s companion, and wants him for herself, and yet still craves a mother figure. For me this is what fuels her complex, contrary feelings towards her father’s fiancée Anne.
I wish I had read Bonjour Tristesse when I was in my late teens, and I would recommend it to anyone of that age, girl or boy. It is the perfect antidote to most ‘teen fiction’ and yet it perfectly captures the feelings you have at that age. Cecile’s experience is an extreme example, but it is wonderful to know that feeling like that isn’t wrong or strange. It is part of life, part of becoming an adult. I personally remember having about a thousand different feelings at once, and constantly changing my mind and opinions about people and things. It’s totally normal and reading about it in such a classic, revered, French book like Bonjour Tristesse makes it all feel valid. Thank you Francoise!