Rediscovered Classics: Bonjour Tristesse

Posted on 2nd June 2015 by Jonathan O'Brien
The best books you've never read.

Starting this month, our booksellers will be choosing a classic novel that they've always meant to read but never have. The sort of books which sit in the back of your mind, in the 'I really must read that' section of your mental bookshelf. This month we've chosen Francoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse, a tale of young love and adults decisions as 17-year-old Cecile faces a grown-up world for the first time. 

Cecile and her father, Raymond, are two hedonists enjoying everything life has to offer. Raymond spends his time courting a series of beautiful young women while Cecile revels in the freedom she has away from any serious responsibilities. Raymond seems to show little interest in her education or love life, the only important thing is that they are both having fun. At a beach house in Summer, with Raymond’s current girlfriend Elsa, they are visited by Raymond’s old friend Anne and Cecile suddenly faces the pressures of growing up.

Personally, this promotion has already been a joy. For years customers and colleagues alike have recommended Bonjour Tristesse to me but, for whatever reason, I’ve never got around to reading it. I realised that if I didn’t do so now then I never would so, last week, I set aside an afternoon and finally read it. Frankly, it’s brilliant.

Much has been written about how Francoise Sagan was only 18 when Bonjour Tristesse was published. I’m not going to tell you what an accomplishment that is for someone so young. 18-year-olds, on the whole, aren’t stupid and there are many people of much more advanced years who wouldn’t be able to write a book this well. Of course a talented young writer is able to accurately depict what it’s like to be young. They’re writing from direct experience, not half-remembered memories from twenty or more years before.

And Sagan is a very talented writer. She captures the feeling of teenage Summer holidays perfectly. Going away with a parent, grown-up enough to wander around by yourself but still relying on them for everything else. That odd stage between teenage and adulthood. The uncertainty in knowing that you’ll soon have responsibilities you both want and don’t want.

I could write much more. About how you still see teenagers like Cecile all over Instagram or about the triviality of her problems. I’m not even certain that, as a reader, we’re supposed to like Cecile that much. She’s impulsive, selfish, prone to exaggeration but maybe I don’t like that because it reminds me of my own teenage years. It’s a complicated question, really. One that there’s no time for now.

The best thing I can suggest is that you read it. Especially if, like me, you’ve always been meaning to do so. It's fantastic.


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