A number-one bestseller in France, Sagan's latest novel asks: How will a person react to the news that, due to sudden illness, he has only six months to live? Such a harsh sentence is placed on Paul Cazavel, a ``prototype of the mediocre Frenchman''-a middle-aged married man, half-hearted architect, with a none-too-bright fashion model for a mistress. After learning he has incurable lung cancer, Paul first wanders through Paris, overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of emotions-despair, self-pity, horror, denial, shame-that Sagan carefully tempers through her protagonist's caustic, self-deprecating personality: ``So these next six months were going to be not only cruel but boring,'' Paul thinks. He breaks the news to the people in his life and is dismayed by their responses: his best friend, Robert, a successful businessman, is too busy to listen; his mistress, Sonia, appears so self-absorbed that Paul realizes how much he doesn't love her. He is given a warmer reception by his one true love, Mathilde, whom he finds again after many years and who receives him with open arms; but his cold-hearted wife, Helene, is clearly thrilled to get rid of him. Sagan seems keenly aware of ``the melodramatic, ridiculous paradox'' that has imminent death returning Paul to his appreciation of life; at times, Paul gets ``the feeling he was playing a role in some comedy.'' But for all his ironic existential musings, Paul and his situation remain contrived and overblown-a fate the novel's clichd, easy-out ending only seals. (Sept.)
More a novella, this short work by celebrated French author Sagan (e.g., Bonjour Tristesse) is well written despite its trite premise: Paul Cazabel has just been diagnosed with lung cancer and given only six months to live. The events take place in the span of a day-the day Paul hears the shocking news. The issue is not really death, or Paul's dread of dying, but how many different Pauls actually exist: "How many profiles would there be of him, how many imitation Pauls, how many poor copies?" The story also chronicles the reactions of Paul's women (his wife, his mistress, his ex-mistress) to the news. Sagan presents this mortality tale with a deft, philosophical touch, lightened occasionally by humor. Paris is evocatively recalled, and despite his faults, Paul remains a somewhat appealing character up to the end. But sometimes the constraints of the plot remind the reader that it is all too made up; what one wants from this novel is more tension, more surprises, less "fleeting sorrow." Recommended for larger collections only. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/95.]-Doris Lynch, Bloomington P.L., Ind.
Acclaimed as one of France's most popular writers, Sagan's work is expected to be nothing short of brilliant. Although this new novel isn't brilliant, it is tremendously engaging--excellent popular fiction. To call it popular fiction is not to demean the literary qualities of this largely existential (particularly Camus-like) story of a man essentially handed a death sentence: a diagnosis of lung cancer. What follows is all the activities and mental processes that constitute the day Paul Cazavel receives the grim news. Paul's responses--suicidal thoughts, disbelief, anger, imagining expectations and surprise at people's reactions, hypersensitivity and then emotional distancing--are all genuine manifestations of a troubled soul. The scenes of his boyish confession to mistress and former wife and his sharing of the information with a callous, preoccupied friend are very well wrought. More than a character study, however, the novel makes fresh twists and turns in plot (excluding the ending, which is a bit like the old ploy of "well, it was only a dream" ). All in all, Sagan deserves a big "Bravo" for a deftly crafted novel that punches all the right buttons.