Monday, May 17, 2010

Bonjour Tristesse - Read the Book/See the Movie

Bonjour Tristesse or 'Hello Sadness' reads like a Persephone novel. I think it encapsulates a time in history, this time French, when the world was a bit more carefree but some things were still quite scandalous. I love the way it's written too, from the point of view of an egocentric and selfish adolescent but somehow she isn't unlikable. After all, she's only seventeen and we can forgive her some of her faults. This French classic written by Françoise Sagan in 1954 when she was only eighteen was an overnight sensation in France. The French newspaper, Le Figaro, on its front page, called Sagan "a charming little monster."

Cécile and her widowed father, Raymond,  live a hedonistic lifestyle, partying and having fleeting affairs. They spend the summer in a villa on the French Riviera together with Raymond's current flame, Elsa. The holiday starts of in an idyllic way with the threesome swimming and suntanning. Cécile meets a young man closer to her age, Cyril, and starts a summer fling. Suddenly an unexpected visitor arrives in the person of Anne, an old friend of Cécile's mother. Anne is cultured and intelligent and very different from her father's past girlfriends. Elsa is suddenly replaced and Raymond and Anne announce their impending marriage. Cécile's world is thrown into chaos as she fears her life with her father will never be the same. She enlists the help of Cyril and Elsa to help destroy her father's new found happiness but her plan goes wrong and ends in tragedy.

"A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. Today something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me." (page 1)

This is a novel about the self-centeredness of adolescence and the pain of growing up. It reminded me of The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley because both contain one shattering event that immediately thrust the protagonist from childhood into adulthood.

I also saw the film Bonjour Tristesse (1957) based on the book, as part of the Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge hosted by C.B. James and I actually found it more entertaining than the novel. It stars the stunning Jean Seberg who I later found out had such a tragic end at the age of 40. The film also stars David Niven and Deborah Kerr. It's beautifully shot alternating in black and white and colour. I loved Seberg's clothes and bathing suits. It's a gorgeous film. Here are some pictures:


  1. Aaah, I so want to read this book! And I can never find a copy in libraries or bookstores. And now you tell me there's a movie with JEAN SEBERG!? She's so wonderful! No doubt the movie will be even harder to find... ;)

  2. hmm your blog looks different. I like it! I loved Bonjour Tristesse too. I haven't seen the film. Francoise Sagan certainly had an interesting life too.

  3. I LOVE this movie and book and I'm so glad you did, too!

    Jean Seberg is the only person I've ever seen who can out gamine Audrey Hepburn.

  4. I want to see this now! I remember studying the go-between in school but for this one I think I'd rather see the film.

  5. Your comment on Bonjour Tristese reading like a Persephone novel will be even more true if you can get hold of this edition.(Hoping the link works),,9780141032917,00.html
    Ooh a film of it - now that's one for a Sunday afternoon.

  6. This book looks fabulous. I love French novels!

  7. I might have to give this another try. I tried to watch the movie but (sorry!) though she's gorgeous, I found Jean Seberg's acting ability unwatchable. Deborah Kerr and David Niven were heaven, of course.

  8. This sounds fabulous, and I had never heard of it. I am looking for French novels to read during the summer (i will be returning to the UK in October, so feel the need to say au revoir to France with some reading) and this is now on my list. thank you for pointing it out.

    Happy Monday


  9. @Joan - Checked the link. That's a beautiful edition of the book.

    @Tessa Scoffs - Yes, I agree Jean Seberg isn't a great actress especially next to the other two. I love Deborah Kerr!

    @Hannah Stoneham - Bonjour Tristesse would make a great summer read especially while you're still in France.

  10. One of my favourite books since I read it in my own teen years. I enjoyed the film too but not as much. I agree this is a great holiday read!

  11. I'd like to read this. I loved The Go-Between so I think this sounds like my cup of tea.

  12. Seberg would be just about perfect for this, wouldn't she? I probably would have liked the book more if I had read it when I was 15 instead of 37. Great post though!


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