My first thought for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge category “A Classic In Translation” was to try something from Collette, since I had never read her and was curious to try. But I also have this nutty idea to read the entire Rougon-Macquart series by Zola (I have only read two: The Fortunes of the Rougons and Germinal…only 18 more to go! – cue crazed laughter). But in the end, I spontaneously decided to go for something different, but still translated from the French interestingly enough. I read Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (translated into English by Irene Ash) which was first published in 1954 when Sagan was just 19. I didn’t realize that this is a novella, but that was a happy surprise in that it didn’t take me long to finish it.
The story is about Cécile, a 17 year old who has been living in Paris with her widowed father and his string of live-in girlfriends for two years since leaving her convent boarding school. Cécile should be studying for her entrance exams to university, but frankly she can’t be bothered. Like her father Raymond, she is too busy having fun to worry too much about exams or anything else she finds unpleasant. She spends most of her time attending parties and social events in her father’s circle of like-minded men and women. However, when she goes to the French Rivera for the summer with Raymond and his latest gal pal, their family friend, Anne, shows up unexpectedly. Cécile and her father are drawn to Anne’s common sense stability, a trait they both lack. However, Cécile soon feels threatened by Anne and Anne’s relationship with and influence over Raymond and drama and tragedy ensue.
This book is very much a character study of Cécile. There is some dialog and description but much of the book is inside Cécile’s head. And because she is a spoiled, immature teenager who doesn’t have the emotional experience to navigate the threat that she believes is posed by Anne’s presence, often the inside of her head is a confusing and contradictory place to be.
I liked the novella OK but I am not going to rush and read any further books by Sagan. It is great when I read a classic and discover a new author with a huge back catalog for me to explore, but when that doesn’t happen, that is OK too!