On the second leg of my journey to Sydney, having finished Middlemarch at Beijing Aiport, I was in dire need of a quick, compelling read that would entertain me for the final couple of hours of my flight. Thankfully, I had packed Bonjour Tristesse. Originally bought from Atlantis Books while on holiday in Santorini a few weeks previously, it was certainly more handbag-friendly than my copy of Middlemarch – which has been wrongly mistaken for the Bible on more than one occasion.
Translated as ‘Hello Sadness’, Bonjour Tristesse was written by eighteen-year old Françoise Sagan; published in 1954 it immediately became an overnight sensation. An amoral tale of a heady summer set on the French Riviera, this fast-paced novella scandalised French society and soon brought fame to its young author.
Seventeen-year-old Cecil is holidaying on the Côte d’Azur with her widowed father and his mistress and is enjoying the freedom afforded to her now no longer at boarding school. A holiday romance ensues with “tall and almost beautiful” law student Cyril, who becomes entangled in a plot Cecil concocts to stop the impending wedding between her father and late mother’s best friend.
A subtle, rousing tale with tragic consequences, Bonjour Tristesse is plentiful in poetic prose and resonates as much with readers today as it did on its first publication sixty years ago.