Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.
This week I have chosen Bonjour Tristesse which I read back in 2009.
Bonjour Tristesee by Francoise Sagan
This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I’ve just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you’re teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.
Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile’s dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn’t need exams – she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). Shortly after, Anne and Cecile’s father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong…
I loved it. I don’t know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you’re an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).
I instantly fell in love with this book. I have since read a few more of Sagan’s books and been similarly blown away by how perceptive of humans and what makes us human she is. An extremely talented writer.
Have you read any of Sagan’s books? Any others you would recommend?
Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.
My choice for this week is:
A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant (or A Life)
I read this book back in 2010 and loved it. Here is a link to my original review.
What I thought:
Who would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the characters)? One minute I was swooning over landscape and seascape and melting in Maupassant’s prose, and the next I was wanting to wring the protagonist’s neck!
The book starts with a young Jeanne who is in her last ever day at the convent school in 1819 and who is desperate to taste freedom and start her life after being cooped up for so long, only being able to stare out of windows and dream what her life will be like when she is finally out in the world. Jeanne’s daydreams are filled with longing and a restless spirit that is aching to see far away lands and nature and finally breathe after all these years at school. Jeanne’s parents (a Baron and Baroness) pick her up on her last day and drive her to Poplars which is to become her home by the sea. Maupassants narrative is so beautiful in parts that I longed to be there too; to experience what Jeanne was experiencing.
“First of all facing her was a broad lawn as yellow as butter under the night sky. Two tall trees rose up like steeples in front of the house, a plane to the north and a linden to the south.”
“Jeanne gazed at the broad surface of the sea, which looked like watered silk, sleeping peacefully under the stars. In the quiet of the sunless sky all the scents of the earth rose up into the air. A jessamine climbing round the downstairs windows gave a penetrating scent, which mingled with the fainter smell of the young leaves. Gentle gusts of wind were blowing, laden with the sharp tang of the salt and the heavy sticky reek of seaweed. At first the girl was happy just breathing the night air; the peace of the countryside had the calming effect of a cool bath.”
Jeanne’s first few months are spent getting to know her new surroundings and enjoying her freedom and soon she is introduced to a young man by the name of Julien who is a count and after a brief and all-consuming romance they marry. Jeanne starts to pick up clues that all is not what it seemed as early as the wedding night when he forces himself on his new bride but desperately wanting to believe that she has married the right man and stay happy she puts it to one side. I feel the need to note here (for amusement’s sake) that Julien calls his wife’s breasts Mr Sleeper-out and Mr Kiss-me-quick and certain other parts of her womanly anatomy The road to Damascus. Fortunately, these aren’t mentioned more than once.
The story is very much about the downward spiral of one woman’s life. We watch Jeanne’s hopes and desires and dreams turn into boredom and frustration and self-pity.
“Suddenly she realised that she had nothing to do and never would have anything.”
“But now the magic reality of those first days was about to become the everyday reality, which closed the door on those hopes and delightful enigmas of the unknown.”
“Habit spread over her life like a layer of resignation like the chalky deposit left on the ground by certain kinds of water.”
“Sometimes she would spend the whole afternoon sitting looking at the sea; sometimes she went down to Yport through the wood, repeating the walks of old days which she could not forget. What a long time it was since she had wondered through the countryside as a young girl intoxicated with dreams!”
Maupassant has such a way with words that he drew me into Jeanne’s world and I felt the same longing she felt. It took me back to days when I had the world at my feet too and thought I could do anything, had no cares in the world – OK so my carefree days were a little different to Jeanne’s as in rather than floating round some big mansion by the sea, it was made up of nights out on the town, no mortgage to pay and a feeling of being able accountable to nobody except myself (ahh, to be so naive once more!). I do sometimes wonder how I would have coped in those days – one part of me thinks how lovely to do nothing all day other than read my books and take little walks round the garden with my parasol in hand, and the other part thinks but what would happen when you got bored of that? A woman didn’t have a choice then. In those particular circles, they were there to look pretty and be seen but not so much heard. How dull!
Despite my sympathy towards Jeanne, not just because of her longing for something else but also because of her brutish husband and selfish son, I still found myself wanting to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake! My God, this woman can make a fuss. Her level of self-pity knows no bounds – we have hysterics, weeping, falling on someone’s breast and weeping, collapsing on a chair and weeping, we have fainting, panic attacks and wailing. There were times when I wanted to yell “get a grip, love!” at the pages.
“She continually repeated: ‘I have no luck in life.’ But Rosalie would retort: ‘What would you say if you had to earn your living and had to get up at six every morning and go out to work? There are plenty of women who have to do that, and when they are too old to work, they starve to death.’”
This book, I believe, should have been translated as One Woman’s Life rather than A Woman’s Life as it is very much about Jeanne and her personal story.
I read quite a few Maupassant books when I was at school (we studied Boule de Suife and some of his other shorter stories) but it’s far too long since I have read anything else of his. I’m glad I did – it reminded me why I liked him. Recommended.
Since reading this book I have visited Paris and on one occasion I went to see Maupassant’s grave.
Have you read this or any of de Maupassant’s other books? Any recommendations?
What I Thought:
This weekend I sat in the garden, the sun shining, and read the most beautiful, lyrical and vividly written book – Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew. This isn’t the first book I have read by this author (more on that later) so I knew that I was in for a treat and I wasn’t let down in the slightest.
This book is a feast for the senses. From the very first sentence, I was whisked immediately away to the Provencial countryside as a new spring is dawning and I was immersed in colours and fragrances and sensations that can only be brought about by the most talented author. I was there under the lime tree, I felt the breeze lift the hem of my skirt, and heard the parched earth drink the water from the upturned pail.
The man of the book title is, in fact, Vincent van Gogh, however, he isn’t the protagonist; that is Jeanne Trabuc. Van Gogh is more of a supporting character to enable Jeanne to evolve and blossom, and the story is really hers. The year is 1889 and set in the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh admitted himself and was a patient for a year, painting some of his most loved paintings during that time before he became more well known. Jeanne lives with her husband Charles in a little white cottage next to the asylum in the French countryside as Charles is the Manager there. Jeanne, whose three grown up sons have all left home, lives by the rules she has become accustomed to over the years and is forbidden to enter the asylum grounds but she finds a way to meet with Vincent often and through their conversations while he paints, she learns to remember the woman (and child) she was; the playful, independent girl who grew up with just her belovèd Father and wore yellow silk dresses, wore her hair unpinned, and who did handstands in the square. It’s an incredibly moving story as Jeanne considers her life and contemplates her future. Van Gogh’s paintings awaken something in her; a desire and a longing for something more than the life of conformity and routine.Seven years ago, I interviewed this author about her book Corrag (which is now re-published as Witch Light and is still one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read) and in this interview, she explained about spending half-an-hour of watching a bumble bee visit foxgloves, writing down how it looked and sounded, and I can completely see this. The scenes of nature in both books are exquisite; full of vibrancy and sentiment. Just stunning.
When I read a book I want to believe I’m right there in the pages. Few authors make me feel this as well as Susan Fletcher. Others that have had a similar impact are Joanne Harris (particularly the Chocolat series) and more recently Sealskin by Su Bristow.
This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough.
Have you read this book or anything else by Susan Fletcher? I’d love to know what you think.
Ooh là là…
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to Paris for 4 days as present for my 40th birthday (last year): I’m back now after having had the most fantastic time and wanted to share with you some of my trip as there are so many lovely bookish landmarks in Paris:
Mr Whisperer and I stayed in a gorgeous little Parisien appartment in Bastille right next to a patiserie where we got pain au chocolats and croissants each morning to go with our coffee overlooking a little courtyard. Although we were only a couple of minutes walk from the metro we decided to spend our few days there cycling round Paris instead. Cycling is THE ONLY way to see Paris! You get to see all the bits you don’t travelling by metro and places that you would never have time to see all on foot. It was so easy to get around and we came across places we wouldn’t normally have this way. To top it all it was so much fun!
The first day we went on an organised cycle tour with Bike About Tours which took us to places more off the beaten track (rather than the big well known sites that we can all get to on our own). I can highly recommend this company if you go to Paris.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The first place we stopped on the tour was the Jewish memorial in Le Marais which I was really keen to see as I had read Sarah’s Key only last year. This is part of The Roundup and we stopped at a boys school where 400 Jewish children were forceably taken and sent to the camps.
I really enjoyed Sarah’s Key (particulalry the historical part of the story) as I hadn’t heard of The Roundup before then. I also watched the film that came out at the end of last year which I can highly recommend too.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The next part of the tour took us to Victor Hugo’s house which is part of Places des Voges. It was once a royal residence and is now split into homes which hardly ever come onto the market (apart from one about 6 years ago for 25.5 million Euros!). We didn’t actually go into the house (although you can) but it was exciting for me to see the author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (neither of which I have read yet although both are on my radar).
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
We then went on to an area of Paris called Les Halles which used to host the biggest and oldest market in Paris. The market is the setting for Zola’s book The Belly of Paris. It doesn’t exist in the same place anymore (in fact it is now just a busy junction with shops and fast food places) but what I did find interesting is the poison shop that still remains all these years later. The market was rife with the pitter-patter of tiny paws so there was a shop selling rat poison right next to the market which still has the stuffed bodies of rats from 1925 hanging in the window.
Keep a lookout for the next stops on the bookish tour of Paris – coming soon 🙂
I have noticed something…
…I am rubbish at making plans. OK, not strictly true – I am great a making plans, just rubbish at sticking to them.
After a very murderous 2011, I have an urge for something a little gentler right now and I plan to raid my own shelves in 2012 and read some of what I actually own. This year I have had the absolute best fun reading about serial killers and detectives and crime fiction was all I craved for a long time: I will still be reading crime fic in 2012 as it is one of my favourite genres but at the moment I am craving books that have been sat on my shelves and whispering my name for years.
So, knowing full well that these best-laid plans will fall by the way-side by around mid January, let’s have a little fun pretending for now:
Plan #1 – The Victorians
I am dying to get back to the Victorian classics and have read Little Women and Oscar Wilde’s Complete Short Fiction over Christmas. These are also some authors that I would like to read more of in the new year.
Jane Eyre and Villette are two of my favourite books of all time and so this year I’d like to read Shirley.
I have only read Tess of the D’Urbervilles and think it’s about time I read some more. I am thinking The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure first.
This Master of the Tome has always been slightly daunting to me (despite me loving Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol) but this year I am determined to read at least one more of his and on my hit list are David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
I absolutely loved Lady Audley’s Secret and have heard great things about Aurora Floyd so that will be next. I just love Victorian sensational novels.
I loved North and South and my cousin bought me a copy of Wives and Daughters for Christmas which I have heard great things about.
I have only read The Woman in White so it is high time I picked up more of Collins’ work and next up are Moonstone and Armadale.
Plan #2 – The French
I love reading books set in France or by French authors. At the end of February I am going to Paris for 4 days so I plan to read some Paris-based books before I go to get me in the mood:
I have only read Thérèse Raquin and I am about ¼ of the way through Germinal but I would also like to read The Belly of Paris or The Ladies Paradise this year.
I am thinking about joining in the year-long read-a-long of this book, hosted by Kate at Kate’s Library as I have wanted to read it for years and it does seem like a good way to do this, but like I said, I am crap at sticking to plans so let’s see…
Two other authors I would like to read are Ernest Hemingways’ A Moveable Feast and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and some shorter stories by Guy de Maupassant.
Plan #3 – Authors I want to read more of
I have a habit that goes like this: I read a book by an author, I love it, I buy a tonne of other books by that same author, they sit on my shelves waiting to be picked up.
So, with that in mind, plan #3 entails taking said books down from said shelves, dusting them off and actually reading them. Authors include:
Daphne du Maurier
Plan #4 – Authors I want to read for the very first time
I also have a habit of buying books by authors I think I should be reading but never get round to. Yes, I’m looking at you
Plan #5 – Books I have waited to read for far too long
There are certain books that have been on my wishlist for reading for so long that I almost cringe out of guilt when I hear them mentioned. Fortunately, two of them are being read this year in my on-line book club: Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath. Others that look at me longingly from my shelves are: Shantaram, Shogun and My Antonia.
Plan #6 – Review Copies
I successfully managed to avoid the great publisher/blogger debate that was doing the rounds last month, and I still intend to. What I will say is that when an unexpected (or expected) package lands on my doormat I still get that feeling like it’s my birthday and Christmas rolled into one. There is not much more exciting than ripping the packaging off something book-shaped. Having said that, I do regularly get overwhelmed with the number of books that drop through my letterbox and my guilt at not reading them all still hounds me, but this year I have decided that I want to concentrate more on the books I already have rather than spending the majority of my reading time on proof copies. It’s a tough one really as despite the fact that a) I don’t get the time to read them all and b) abandom some pretty quickly, two of the unsolicited copies that arrived at my house this year (and to be honest, I may not have picked up myself in a shop) ended up on my top 10 of 2011 list.
So, there are my current plans for 2012. This may change. In fact, this probably will change. Afterall, when something new and shiny lands on the doormat, what’s a girl to do? 😉
Do you have blogging plans for 2012?
“Gilles Latiner is thirty-five, attractive, with a beuatiful mistress and a job in Paris as a journalist. He seems to have all that life can offer. But suddenly he is overwhelmed by despair. Nothing seems worth while. In panic at his boredom, and hating Eloise, his model girlfriend, he flees for some peace to his sister and her husband in the provinces.
Here he meets Nathalie, the wife of a country lawyer. She falls deelply in love with him, a passion to which he soon responds. But back in Paris her innate goodness contrasts oddly with the frivolity of Gilles’s life. Soon it seems as if their relationship is doomed, as if their happiness is a mere gleam of sunlight on cold water…”
What I thought:
After having read, and loved, Sagan’s more famous Bonjour Tristesse about a year ago; when I saw this book and two others by Sagan for only £2 each in a little second-hand bookshop, I dutifully rescued them from the shelves and brough them home to be loved and nurtured by me!
I loved this book! Really loved it. Francoise Sagan is such a talented writer. She wrote Bonjour Tristesse at the age of 17 when she had failed her exams so “decided to write a novel instead”. For one so young, that particular book is truly amazing (or am I just forgetting – now I’m older – how complex a teenagers emotions really are?).
Sunlight on Cold Water was written at the end of the 1960’s so by this time Sagan had matured and had the time and experience to hone her craft. For such a short book (a novella, really) not a word is wasted and I found myself, over and over again, marvelling at her insight into human beings and their actions and motivations. She really gets under the skin of her characters and has the most incredible empathy for what makes them tick.
Gilles Lantier is a successful journalist in Paris, living a life of frivolity with a model for a girlfriend (and women whenever he pleases). At age 35, he finds himself in a very unfamiliar and very frigtening place. What used to interest him now makes no sense, what used to please him now repells him and for the first time in his life he is struggling to even function, let alone live with any purpose. Gilles, although he doesn’t realise it at first – being so overwhelmed by fear, is suffering from depression of the most crippling kind.
“He had spend the whole morning at his newspaper, where he worked on the foreign desk. The world was full of violent and absurd happenings, to which his colleagues reacted with a smug indignation which he found exasperating. Three months ago, he would have been delighted to join in their protests, but it was out of the question now. He even felt midly irritated that the people in the Middle East, the United States, or anywhere else, kept trying to distract him from his real problem: himself.”
The way Sagan depicted Gilles unravelling was astounding. Speaking as one who has suffered depression previously and knows how crippling and debilatating it can be, she got this spot on.
Gilles finally (on the advice of everyone telling him he needs a break) heads down to Limoges, in the Limousin, to stay with his older sister and her husband. Far from him miraculously becoming well again, as everyone expected, in the fresh country air and slower pace of life, Gilles still struggles to do the simplest of things and sleeps as much as possible.
“The simple, homely pleasures of country life! What a pity such clichés could only sustain him for a few minutes at a time before life and his obsession caught up with him again like a pack of hounds in full cry that has given the stag a few minutes’ breathing space merely to prolong the hunt.”
A few weeks into his stay in the provinces, Gilles is dragged along (unwillingly) to a dinner party in the village where he meets Nathalie, the young wife of a very well-to-do lawyer. She instantly falls in love with Gilles (quite to his amusement) and finds reasons to pop along to Gilles’ sisters house to see him. They begin an affair (not very successfully at first) but he eventually falls in love with Nathalie too and his life suddently begins to hold some sort of meaning again.
The title of the book, Sunlight on Cold Water, is a perfect metaphor for Gilles and Nathalie’s budding relationship. Gilles starts to live again, to breathe again. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book, but there is some soul-searching to be done once back in Paris and the ending really does come completely out of the blue!
I know I have only read two Sagan books so far but I am now declaring myself a huge fan! I find her prose so crisp and clear and not a word wasted and she is also an author who knows her characters so well that her books don’t need to be padded out with non-necessities. Brilliant, just brilliant!