I read Françoise Sagan‘s “Bonjour Tristess,” on Sunday morning. The title means “Hello, Sadness” in English. It was published in 1954. It’s a slim book; it’s a distrubing book. I was planning to wrap up my entire complicated set up of my little Raspberry Pi Zero with a Camera Module v2 on Sunday night, to get the project going and make progress and everything, but I didn’t get to it. Because I was so distracted by this little book!
I can’t stop thinking about it after reading it. What the heck did I just read? What’s going on with this seventeen-year-old girl Cécile? What’s up with Cécile and Anne? There’s definitely something going on with Cécile and Anne, and with Cécile and Elsa. A few hours after reading it, I realized the story was more about these three women - Cécile, Anne, Elsa fighting for Raymond’s attention and affection; that it was less about Cyril and Raymond, or Cécile and Cyril.
The story is about a seventeen-year-old Cécile, her carefree father Raymond, and Raymond’s mistress Elsa haveing a summer vacation in a villa outside of Paris. Cécile meets a handsome law student Cyril and is going to have a little summer romance with him. But the arrival of Anne, her late mother’s best friend, makes everything fall apart. Raymond quickly transfers his attention to Anne, they fall in love.
Elsa is treated very badly, pretty much gets abandoned by Raymond. For some reason Raymond and Anne quickly decide that they want to get married. This is very bad news for Cécile because this means that she can no long enjoy the pleasures of life. Anne is this very cultured, sophisticated, intelligent, calm, self-contained, sometimes indifferent, almost tiger mom-like figure, whom Cécile is oftentimes afraid of. Since Anne and Raymond plan to get married soon, Anne starts to play this godmother role in Cécile’s life; for the most obvious part she starts to make her study for exams.
Then, some time later, Elsa comes back for her suitcases. Cécile persuades Elsa to win back her father’s heart by pretending to be in love with Cyril. The idea is to provoke anger and jealousy upon seeing Elsa with someone younger, hotter, and maybe more ambitious than himself. When Raymon and Elsa finally meet in the village, Anne sees them together.
Out of agony, she drives away from the house. The pain she feels due to her lover’s betrayal is unbearable. She needs a place to sort out her emotions after the shock of her future husband’s betrayal. Unfortunately, her car has gone over an edge of a cliff, which leads to her death. After Anne’s funeral, Raymond and Cécile go back to their old life – the father has a new girl, the daughter is in a new relationship. The story concludes with the narrator’s recall of memories of the previous summer: “Then something rises in me that I welcome by name, with closed eyes: Bonjour tristesse!”
Here are 5 of the best lines from perhaps what is Françoise Sagan’s best-loved work, Bonjour Tristesse.
“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.” (P7)
“He would have liked to know that I was tormented by our situation, but I was not; in fact my only torment at that moment was the way my heart was thumping. He bent over me. […] He kissed me gently. I looked at the sky, then saw nothing but lights bursting under my closed eyelids. The warmth, dizziness, and the taste of our first kisses continued for long moments.” (P9)
“The next morning I was awakened by a slanting ray of hot sunshine that flooded my bed and put an end to my strange and rather confused dreams. […] I went down to the terrace in my pyjamas and found Anne glancing through the newspapers. I noticed that she was lightly, but perfectly, made up; apparently she never allowed herself a real holiday. As she paid no attention to me, I sat down on the steps with a cup of coffee and an orange to enjoy the delicious morning. I bit the orange and let its sweet juice run into my mouth, then took a gulp of scalding black coffee and went back to the orange again.” (P15)
“I fetched a cigarette from the table and struck a match. It went out. With shaking hands I lighted another, and although there was no wind, it went out. In exasperation I took a third, and for some reason this match assumed a vital importance; perhaps because Anne was watching me intently. Sunddenly everything around me seemed to melt away and there was nothing left but the match between my fingers, the box, and Anne’s eyes boring into me. My heart was beating violently. I tightened my fingers round the match and struck it, but as I bent forward my cigarette put it out. The matchbox dropped to the ground and I could feel Anne’s hard, searching gaze upon me. The tension was unbearable.” (P64)
“Apart from these incidents and filling our daily life were Anne’s confidence, gentleness and (I hate to use the word) happiness. She was nearer to happiness than I had ever seen her since she had been at our mervy, egoists that we were.” (P87)
I think started learning French by myself sometime in September last year, and so reading French is still a challenging task. But here’s a few paragraphs that I found understandable by my current, very limited French vocabulary:
– Pourquoi as-tu invité Anne? Et pourquoi a-t-elle accepté?
– Pour voir ton vieux pére, peut-être. On ne sait jamais.
– Et Elsa? As-tu pensé à Elsa? Tu t’imagines les conversations entre Anne et Elsa? Moi pas!
– Anne, dis-je, Anne, ne partez pas, c’est une erreur, c’est ma faute, je vous expliquerai…
– Anne, nous avons besoin de vous!
“Elle se redressa alors, décomposée. Elle pleurait. Alors je compris brusquement que je m’étais attaquée à un être vivant et sensible et non pas à une entité. […] Elle avait quarante ans, elle était seule, elle aimait un homme et elle avait espéré être heureuse avec lui dix ans, vingt ans peut-être.”
– Vous n’avez besoin de personne, murmura-t-elle, ni vous ni lui.
– Pardonnez-moi, je vous en supplie…
– Vous pardonner quoi?