As an early Christmas present, my mother had gifted me a trip to Waterstones to pick up any 5 books of my choosing. I had nailed down the 4 that I wanted and was struggling to decide on my final one. With time running out I made a split section decision to go with this Penguin Modern Classic by Francoise Sagan that included both ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ and ‘A Certain Smile’. Two books for the price of one was sort of my thinking with it. Sagan, a French novelist, is known for her existential undertones that appear throughout most of her books and plays. Even her personal life can be seen as displaying that wild car feeling. In 1957 she was involved in an accident which left her in a coma. She liked gambling and was arrested and convicted with possession of cocaine in the 1990s. She was a long-term user of prescription pills, amphetamines, cocaine, morphine and alcohol. In 2002 she was unable to appear at a trial that convicted her of tax fraud in a case involving the former French President Francois Mitterand. Her writing and her personal life have an essence of scandal to them, which some argue make even more interesting to read. Popular culture gives great coverage to those artists like Sagan who appear more damaged, which is why there is a common myth that ‘broken’ people tend to become artists.
The book is set in the French Riviera, where the protagonist Cecile is spending a few weeks with her father Raymond and his mistress Elsa. This is where Cecile meets her lover/boyfriend, who she goes back and forth between having real emotions for. Their holiday is interrupted by an old friend of Cecile’s mother, Anne whom Raymond had vaguely invited. Without spoiling too much, Cecile’s father has a choice to make between the elegant and classy Anne or the sweet and young Elsa. The book follows the typical life of a teenage child, fleeting summer romances and being told to do her homework.
Even though the book was short, I found myself a bit uninterested in the plot. The beginning of the book was relatable, as a 23-year-old girl trying to find my way in life I could relate to the existential crisis that she was having. But I also expect some character progression, which I found this book to be quite lacking. Cecile continuously talked about her feelings towards her lover and father, but the book ended with almost the same sentiments that she had started with. The whole book is pretty much centred around the fact that none of them has an actual personality. Or at least not an interesting one. Cecile has that typical teenage angst, but instead of being interesting she comes across as boring. Her sabotage of her father’s relationship and her fleeting remorse makes for a boring read. The version of the book that I bought was attached with another book of Sagan’s, A Certain Smile. Reviews are personal opinion, so if I’m insulting your favourite book then don’t be offended. But for me, A Certain Smile was one of those books that I so desperately wanted to put down and never pick up again. If there was one word to describe the book then it would be drab.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend either of her books to anyone. Some merit can be given as I think Sagan wrote Bonjour Tristesse when she was just 19, but honestly, you can tell. It is an easy to read book, so if you’re looking for something that you don’t need to concentrate on… then no I still wouldn’t recommend it. Let me know if you’ve read it, and what you thought of it if you have!
Until next time,