Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father's love life leads to tragic consequences.Freed from boarding school, Cécile lives in unchecked enjoyment with her youngish, widowed father an affectionate rogue, dissolute and promiscuous. Having accepted the constantly changing women in his life, Cécile pursues a sexual conquest of her own with a "tall and almost beautiful" law student. Then, a new woman appears in her father's life. Feeling threatened but empowered, Cécile sets in motion a devastating plan that claims a surprising victim.Deceptively simple in structure, Bonjour Tristesse is a complex and beautifully composed portrait of casual amorality and a young woman's desperate attempt to understand and control the world around her.
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About the Author
Françoise Sagan (1935-2004) was only eighteen when her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published. Her other novels include Incidental Music, A Certain Smile, and The Painted Lady.
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A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.
That summer, I was seventeen and perfectly happy. At that time "everybody else" was my father and his mistress, Elsa. I must explain this situation at once, or it might give a false impression. My father was forty, and had been a widower for fifteen years. He was young for his age, full of vitality and liveliness. When I left my convent school two years before and came to Paris to live with him, I soon realized that he was living with a woman. But I was slower in accepting the fact that his fancy changed every six months! But gradually his charm, my new easy life, and my own disposition, led me to fall in readily with his ways. He was a frivolous man, clever at business, always curious, quickly bored, and very attractive to women. It was easy for me to love him, for he was kind, generous, gay and fond of me. I cannot imagine a better or a more amusing companion. At the beginning of the summer I am concerned with now, he even asked me whether I would object to having Elsa along on our summer vacation. She was his mistress of the moment, a tall, red-headed girl, sensual and worldly, kindly, rather simple-minded, and unpretentious. One might have come across her any day in the studios and bars of the Champs-Elysées. I readilyconsented, for I knew his need of a woman, and I knew, too, that Elsa would not get in our way. Besides, my father and I were so delighted at the prospect of going away that I was in no mood to object to anything. He had rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean, for which we bad been longing since the spring. It was remote and beautiful, standing on a headland jutting over the sea, hidden from the road by pine woods. A goat path led down to a small, sunny cove where the sea lapped against rust-colored rocks.
The first days were dazzling. We spent hours on the beach giving ourselves up to the hot sun, gradually assuming a healthy golden tan except for Elsa, whose skin reddened and peeled, causing her intense agony. My father performed all sorts of complicated exercises to reduce a rounding stomach unsuitable for a Don Juan. From dawn onward I was in the water. It was cool and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of Paris. I lay stretched out on the sand, took up a handful and let it run through my fingers in soft, yellow streams. I told myself that it ran out like time. It was an idle thought, and it was pleasant to have idle thoughts, for it was summer.
On the sixth day I saw Cyril for the first time. He was hugging the coast in a small sailboat and capsized in front of our cove. I had a wonderful time helping him to rescue his things, during which he told me his name, that he was studying law, and was spending his vacation with his mother in a neighboring villa. He had a typically Latin face very dark and very frank. There was something responsible and protective about him which I liked at once. Usually I avoided college students, whom I considered brutal, wrapped up in themselves, particularly in their youth, in which they found material for drama, or an excuse for their own boredom. I did not care for young people; I much preferred my father's friends, men of forty, who spoke to me courteously and tenderly treated me with the gentleness of a father or a lover. But Cyril was different. He was tall and almost beautiful, with the kind of good looks that immediately inspires one with confidence. Although I did not share my father's intense aversion to ugliness which often led us to associate with stupid people I did feel vaguely uncomfortable in the presence of anyone completely devoid of physical charm. Their resignation to the fact that they were unattractive seemed to me somehow indecent. For what are we looking for if not to please? I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured.
When Cyril left he offered to teach me to sail. I went up to dinner absorbed in my thoughts of him, and hardly spoke during the meal or noticed my father's nervousness. After dinner we stretched out in chairs on the terrace as usual. The sky was studded with stars. I gazed upward, vaguely hoping to see a sudden, exciting flash across the heavens, but it was early in July and too soon for shooting stars. On the terrace the crickets were chirping. There must have been thousands of them, drunk with heat and moonlight, pouring out their song all night long. I had been told they made the sound by rubbing their legs together, but I preferred to believe that it came from the throat, guttural, instinctive like the howls of cats in heat.
We were very comfortable. A few tiny grains of sand between my skin and my shirt kept me from dropping off to sleep. Suddenly my father coughed apologetically and sat up.
"Someone is coming to stay with us," he announced.
I shut my eyes in disappointment. We had been too happy; it just couldn't last!
"Hurry up and tell us who it is!" cried Elsa, always avid for gossip.
Bonjour Tristesse. Copyright © by Francoise Sagan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Reading Group Guide
Plot SummaryUpon its U.S. publication in 1955, Bonjour Tristesse was an immediate international sensation, and one of the top selling books of that year. Its commercial success was partly due to its controversial portrayal of a privileged young woman with precocious attitudes toward love, sex, and morality. In fact, it was a jaw-dropping affront to the American values of the Eisenhower Era. No less sensational, perhaps, was the fact that its equally precocious eighteen-year-old author was barely an adult herself. Such cynicism, aggression, and world-weariness in a teenager -- and a young girl, at that -- were not just inappropriate, they were deeply unsettling. Nearly a half-century later, Cecile's casual friendliness with her father -- and her acceptance of his morally dubious social life -- may not be deemed healthy by child advocates, but it is hardly a stunning revelation. Sagan's depiction of Cecile as a pouting teenager and jaded ingenue is all too familiar in an age where "been there done that" seems to have replaced teenagers' respect for boundaries. Yet Bonjour Tristesse still appeals to the modern reader. Its impeccably crafted, artfully told tale continues to surprise. Sagan's moody voice is the perfect foil to the novel's glamorous setting. Her characters' languorous lifestyle belies the rage and angst simmering beneath the surface. And Cecile's wistful recollections of happier times lull readers into a state of rosy nostalgia -- even as she relates the bone-chilling details of her plot to undermine the adults who want to control her destiny. But perhaps the primary reason that this story resonates today is the truth it holds aboutchildren who grow up too quickly -- and about parents who never grow up at all. There is something heartbreakingly familiar about the combination of Cecile's insouciance and self-loathing and in her defense of her father's libertine ways. Left to her own devices, Cecile -- like most teenagers -- chooses play over hard work; indulgence over restraint; carelessness over responsibility. A more fortunate teenager would be guided by example. Yet Cecile's father's juvenile behavior is the only example she has. It is no wonder she will do anything to maintain the life set out for her by the only parent she knows. It is tragic that this struggle ultimately costs her the only true parent she has ever had. Nearly fifty years ago, readers of Bonjour Tristesse were shocked by Cecile's foray into the adult world of sex and deceit. But that is no longer solely the domain of adults, and we no longer find her behavior shocking. Instead we ache for this young woman who, too soon, finds herself in the grown-up world of disillusionment, regret and sadness. Topics for Discussion
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have rarely been so engrossed in a book as I was reading 'Bonjour Tristesse.' Although it was full of sorrow, it was very beautiful and bitingly realistic. It felt great empathy and even inspiration.