Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) by Françoise Sagan is a Fantastic Summer Read
I first read Bonjour Tristesse when I was 15 and being an angsty teenager was attracted to the title, which translates as "hello sadness".
I immediately fell in love with the book and the 17 year old narrator Cécile in the first sentence. Being a similar age, her cynicism 'spoke' to my hormonal 15 year old self. I am a sucker for French elegance and style and Bonjour Tristesse has this in spades. Cécile's life appears very chic, she lives in Paris with her young(ish) father and holidays in the South of France. Her carefree summer of swimming, being taken to parties by her father and meeting a handsome young man sound like a perfect teenage girls holiday! As the chapters progress however, the tale becomes darker with a sudden final tragic twist to the plot that will leave you aching.
"A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow"
Plot Summary of Bonjour Tristesse - Without giving away the ending....
The story is set in the beautiful and fashionable French Riviera over one summer. The principal characters in Bonjour Tristesse are:
Cécile – a 17 year old girl whose mother died 15 years ago and she lives with her father Raymond in Paris. Her father treats her very much like a companion or partner in crime than a daughter. Cécile has in turns a very naïve view of life but also a world weary and cynical outlook. She accepts her father’s “need for a woman” and is happy with their hedonistic partying lifestyle.
Raymond – is Cécile’s father, in his 40′s and is “young for his age, full of vitality and liveliness”, with an eye for the ladies! He is charming, promiscuous and affectionate. He leaves Cécile to do as she pleases.
Cécile is excited by the prospect of summer in a villa they have rented in the French Riviera, and is happy for Raymond’s current girlfriend Elsa to join them. She knows Elsa won’t “get in the way” of Cécile and her relationship with her father. As Cécile embarks on a holiday romance with the “tall and almost beautiful” Cyril, Raymond announces that there will be an additional house guest…
Anne Larsen – Anne was a friend of Cécile’s late mother and is cool, calm, intelligent and beautiful. Her ways are very different to Cécile’s and her father’s; she is not part of their partying glamorous crowd of friends at all. Cécile admires Anne and has this urge to try to please her, but always feels she falls short. Cécile is also immediately slightly wary as to why Anne would visit them, she isn’t Raymond’s type of woman at all, and has a feeling that their uncomplicated summer of fun would end with Anne’s arrival. Where Elsa doesn’t get in the way of Cécile’s relationship with Raymond, she knows Anne will.
As Cécile becomes more threatened by Anne, a power struggle for Raymond’s affections grows. The ruthlessness and manipulation Cécile displays in contriving different ways to split Anne and her father up culminates in the tragic ending of Bonjour Tristesse – which you will have to read to find out!
"From dawn onward I was in the water. It was cool and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of Paris"
Here's Why You Should Read Bonjour Tristesse...
- Published in 1954, Francoise Sagan was only 18 at the time and became an immediate success. Bonjour Tristesse was translated into 20 languages and had sold 2 million copies by 1958. Francoise Sagan led a bohemian literary lifestyle. She was known for her colorful love life, passion for fast cars, gambling, whiskey and later on problems with drugs.
- Bonjour Tristesse was shocking at the time; there hadn't been a book that admitted to teenager sexuality before. Even more shocking was that it was a teenager herself that wrote these things, with such a world weary view. Despite being written over 60 years ago, the book's style and story has not grown stale. Although no longer shocking, Its themes and writing style still remain fresh and relevant today.
- With the film festival in Cannes, casinos in Monaco, Formula 1 racing in Monte Carlo and parties on board yachts, the French Riviera or Côte d'Azur was in it's heyday in the 1950s as the jetset playground of the rich and famous. The author obviously had first hand experience of it, so her descriptions give a little insight into history and lifestyle of these people.
- Francoise Sagan's writing style is simple and direct, but she has such a way with words that she really does paint a thousand pictures and moods with just a few words. Her descriptions of the French Riviera makes you feel like you are there. Although you may come to dislike Cécile the narrator, the power of Sagan's words will make you share her teenage awkwardness in wanting to be approved of on one hand and be her own woman on the other. Sagan deals with huge themes of coming of age, jealousy, loneliness, amorality versus morality, destiny and love with a languid simple grace.
- If you are a woman, you will know how other women have the terrifying ability to psychologically destroy someone! Francoise Sagan builds up to this psychological warfarebetween Anne and Cécile, without over playing it and over exaggerating. Regardless if you are a man or a woman, this book will lull you into a blissful serenity in the first part of the book, and then increasingly make you squirm at the depth and calculation Cécile goes to destroy her father's relationship.
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"....I kept thinking, first of Cyril's passionate face, and then of Anne's, both with the stamp of violence on them.
And I wondered if the rest of the vacation would be as uncomplicated as my father had assumed."
Bonjour Tristesse the Movie, Starring Juliet Greco and David Niven (1958)
Have You Read Bonjour Tristesse?
Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on May 29, 2011:
I'd heard of this, or maybe just the movie, but you've certainly made me want to read Bonjour Tristesse! Blessed by an angel on the Memorial Day bus trip.
natashaely on April 16, 2011:
No but I love the sound of this! Any book that comes with such good reviews gets added to my list of books to read! Great page :)
CruiseReady from East Central Florida on April 15, 2011:
No, I haven't but you do make it sound very interesting!
kimmanleyort on June 06, 2010:
Another wonderful SquidLit! I have not heard of this book but it sounds great. It sounds like something my daughter would like to read in French. I will have to look into that.
LadyFlashman (author) from United Kingdom on May 29, 2010:
@indigoj: I haven't read it in French, but I would love to be able to! Thank you sooooo much for your blessing, it means a lot as writing this lens has given me a lot of worry in trying to get the beauty of this book across to the reader!
Indigo Janson from UK on May 29, 2010:
A fantastic review of a fantastic book! This was the first 'proper' book that I read in the original French and highly recommend it to students of French. It sounds like it loses nothing in translation, though. Lensrolling to 'I Capture The Castle' and leaving an ~*~* Angel Blessing *~*~ for your wonderful review.