BONJOUR TRISTESSE by Françoise Sagan
Bonjour Tristesse is one of those books that, while it’s quick and easy to read, generates a lot of contemplation.
Cécile, our narrator, is perhaps one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read about. She is a seventeen-year-old overindulgent, pampered child of a father who lives in his own life rather carefree. One summer vacation, Cécile’s life is interrupted by a blast from their past and things take a turn for the worse. It doesn’t help that this story is recounted by her adult self and the tone she takes clearly lacks of any empathy towards the troublesome decisions she’s made in her younger years.
Though Cécile’s unchecked attitude causes a lot of trouble in the story, the blame is to be equally placed with her father, Raymond. While he’s a quiet figure and doesn’t often get a voice—certainly not as much as the women, even Elsa and Anne—the way he’s raised Cécile is deeply problematic. He seems to dangle back and forth between what what makes everyone happy and what would be the right thing given the circumstance. Neither need be exclusive but at times they are.
The writing style works well with the narrative of the book. The fact that this story is actually told in flashback adds more to Cécile’s character and gives us a chance to observe the aftereffects of the events which take place in the book. It equally adds to our aversion of Cécile but at the same time, also emphasizes the negative consequences of being too frivolous with one’s decisions.
The ending is a bit problematic for me because it felt unnecessary to deal with the conflict between Anne and Cécile this way. I also had to question the morality of Cécile and Raymond with how irreverently they seemed to have dealt with the situation at the end. This ties back in to how the adult Cécile is looking back on her younger years and still doesn’t seem to think much of how much her actions has cost others.
Not a book meant for everyone but a satisfying read if you are comfortable with unlikable characters. It lays somewhere between a two- and three-star read.
Rating – ★★★☆☆