Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Argh! That precocious scheming Cecile!

She's just 17 and having the time of her life. Her father, a widower, has rented a large villa on the Mediterranean, "remote and beautiful, standing on a headland jutting over the sea". They are accompanied by Elsa, his "mistress of the moment, a tall red-headed girl, sensual and worldly, kindly, rather simple-minded and unpretentious". Life is good for Cecile. She meets Cyril, a college student who is staying in a nearby villa, "tall and almost beautiful, with the kind of good looks that immediately inspires one with confidence". Then Anne Larsen, Cecile's dead mother's friend, comes to stay. Anne is 42 and divorced, "a most attractive woman, much sought after, with a beautiful face, proud, calm, reserved" (yes in Sagan's world, everyone is good looking).

Cecile is appalled when her father decides to marry Anne. She sees their decadent life in Paris disappearing - all the parties her father took her to, the freedom she had. "'Cecile will have to study during her vacation'" Anne insists, almost as soon as she arrives.

"She would gradually turn us into the husband and step-daughter of Anne Larsen, that is to say, she would turn us into two civilized, well-behaved and contented persons. For she would certainly be good to us. How easily -unstable and irresponsible as we were - we would yield to her influence, and be fitted into the attractive framework of her orderly plan of living. She was much too efficient."

So to save herself and her carefree life with her father, Cecile hatches a plan. She tells Elsa that she is her father's real love and convinces her to pretend to be with Cyril: "'You are fighting for your future, Elsa!'" Her little plan begins to take shape as she lets things drift along. But perhaps it's working all too well.

Bonjour Tristesse is quite a frivolous tale and would be a perfect beach read. This was Francoise Sagan's first novel - and her most famous one - and she wrote it when she was just 18. Her novel That Mad Ache or La Chamade - published in French in 1965 but released this year in a new English translation - is sitting on my shelf and I'm quite curious to see how that differs from
her very first.

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