On the second leg of my journey to Sydney, having finished Middlemarch at Beijing Aiport, I was in dire need of a quick, compelling read that would entertain me for the final couple of hours of my flight. Thankfully, I had packed Bonjour Tristesse. Originally bought from Atlantis Books while on holiday in Santorini a few weeks previously, the shop itself is a haven for book lovers; tucked away in a white-washed cave-like building on a side street in Santorini, I could have spent my entire holiday perusing the well-stocked shelves, but instead settled for an hour in the early evening sun, leaving with just one of the bookseller’s recommendations. The book is certainly more handbag-friendly than my copy of Middlemarch – which has been wrongly mistaken for the Bible on more than one occasion.
Translated as ‘Hello Sadness’, Bonjour Tristesse was written by seventeen-year old Françoise Sagan; published in 1954 when the author was just seventeen, it immediately became an overnight sensation. An amoral tale of a heady summer set on the French Riviera, this fast-paced novella scandalised French society and soon brought fame to its young author.
Seventeen-year-old Cecil is holidaying on the Côte d’Azur with her widowed father and his mistress and is enjoying the freedom afforded to her now she’s no longer confined to the four walls of boarding school. A holiday romance ensues with “tall and almost beautiful” law student Cyril, who becomes entangled in a plot Cecil concocts to stop the impending wedding between her father and late mother’s best friend.
A subtle, rousing tale with tragic consequences, Bonjour Tristesse is plentiful in poetic prose and resonates as much with readers today as it did on its first publication over sixty years ago.
Bonjour Tristesse by Fraçoise Sagan Summary
‘Late into the night we talked of love, of its complications. In my father’s eyes they were imaginary. . . This conception of rapid, violent and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love.’
The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cécile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures. But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cécile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences.
Bonjour Tristesse scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.
This, from The New Yorker, is a great read: Françoise Sagan, the great interrogator of morality.
Françiose Sagan Author Bio
Born Françoise Quoirez, Sagan grew up in a French Catholic, bourgeois family. She was an independent thinker and avid reader as a young girl, and upon failing her examinations for continuing at the Sorbonne, she became a writer.
She went to her family’s home in the south of France and wrote her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, at age 18. She submitted it to Editions Juillard in January 1954 and it was published that March. Later that year, She won the Prix des Critiques for Bonjour Tristesse.
She chose “Sagan” as her pen name because she liked the sound of it and also liked the reference to the Prince and Princesse de Sagan, 19th century Parisians, who are said to be the basis of some of Marcel Proust’s characters.
She was known for her love of drinking, gambling, and fast driving. Her habit of driving fast was moderated after a serious car accident in 1957 involving her Aston Martin while she was living in Milly, France.
Sagan was twice married and divorced, and subsequently maintained several long-term lesbian relationships. First married in 1958 to Guy Schoeller, a publisher, they divorced in 1960, and she was then married to Robert James Westhoff, an American ceramicist and sculptor, from 1962 to 63. She had one son, Denis, from her second marriage.
She won the Prix de Monaco in 1984 in recognition of all of her work.
More Françoise Sagan books
Love this post? Click here to subscribe.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.