Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Francoise Sagan

 Bonjour Tristesse (Penguin Essentials)
   Francoise Sagan died in 2004, but if she were alive today, she would be 76 years old.  In honor of her birthday (and because she is one of my favorite writers), I thought I would mention a few things about my favorite book of hers, Bonjour Tristesse, which translates as "Hello Sadness." 

   The book is set in France where Cecile, her father, and his mistress are spending summer vacation.  Cecile is only 17 years old and is still naive about the ways of the world, especially when it comes to relationships.  He mother died when she was quite young, but she has no interest in replacing her mother with another woman, which is why she struggles with her father's active love life.  It seems that her father is having some sort of mid-life crisis as he flits from one mistress to another, and the women he dates seem to have no experience with children or teenagers.  They talk to Cecile like she is a small child, which as you can imagine, is quite maddening to a girl in a "coming of age" story.  Frustrated with her father's behavior and angered that her summer vacation is ruined because of these women, Cecile decides to take things into her own hands.  The subsequent events change many lives forever in a very tragic way, and Cecile must learn to deal with heavy guilt at a young age.

   Bonjour Tristesse was published when Francoise Sagan was only 18 years old, which is surprising considering how well it is written, with such a deep understanding of emotion and pain. Seriously, what 18 year old writes lines like, "The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism" (5).  Cecile's character could have easily come across as a whiny, spoiled teenager, but Francoise Sagan did not let that happen, which leads me to believe that she was wise beyond her years when this book was written and was never whiny or spoiled herself.  Anyway, this is a wonderful little book (my copy is only 130 pages, so it could easily be read in an hour or two) that rightly elevated Ms Sagan into the world of the rich and famous.  The book was made into a movie in 1958 starring Jean Seberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr.  Honestly, though, I thought the movie was really boring. I did not even make it halfway through, which is disappointing considering how much I enjoyed the book.  But then again, they always say the book is better than the movie don't they?