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79. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse is a classic of French novella literature, a tour de force that took France by storm with its publication in 1954 – when its author Françoise Sagan was only 18 years old. But has it stood the test of time? Did it still have resonance for Kate’s book club?

Teenager Cécile’s summer holiday with her father is interrupted when he decides to remarry. His new fiancée, Anne, is sophisticated and beautiful, and even Cécile admits to being little in love with her. But then Anne makes the mistake of trying to exert some control over Cécile’s carefree existence.

Set over the course of one languorous summer, Bonjour Tristesse will transport you to private sun-soaked beaches, al fresco lunches under the pine trees, and glamorous evenings in the nightclubs of St. Tropez. But beneath these indulgent pleasures hides a powerful psychological war between Anne and Cécile, one that threatens to destroy everything. Who will win?

The perfect solution when your book club wants to read a classic, but no one quite has the energy for the 19th-century greats, Bonjour Tristesse clocks in at just over 100 pages. Did we find it fabulous or frivolous? Listen in to find out.

Book recommendations

As ever, we love to recommend other books you might like to try for your next read or book club discussion. In this episode we recommend:

Cherie and Claudine at School by Collette

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Au Revoir, Tristesse by Viv Groskop

Our upcoming book club show will be on The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder.

Notes

Watch scenes from Otto Preminger’s 1958 film adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse, plus a somewhat patronising interview with Sagan which helps to explain why she hated talking to the media so much.

In Au Revoir, Tristesse, author Viv Groskop describes a clip from a Clive James travel show in which Françoise Sagan drives him around Paris and at one point into a pedestrian. You can watch it here. Sagan ‘knows everything about cars, except how to make them go slowly,’ James observes drily.

Irene Ash translated the first English edition of Bonjour Tristesse. More recently Penguin commissioned a new translation by Heather Lloyd. In this interesting Guardian article, Richard Williams discusses the merits of the two translations.

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