‘bonjour Tristesse’ By Françoise Sagan

The novel Bonjour tristesse (1954), written when its author, Françoise Sagan, was just eighteen, follows its teenage protagonist, Cécile, through the fateful weeks which mark the end of her childhood and the beginning of her adult life.

The story opens with seventeen year old Cécile’s arrival at her father Raymond’s villa in the South of France, where she is set to spend the summer with him and his latest mistress, 26 year old Elsa. The trio live peaceably alongside each other, spending their days under the sun of the Côte d’Azur, and their nights drinking together in bars. In the course of these weeks of tranquil idleness, Cécile also embarks on her first love affair, with law student Cyril. However, the quiet routine of this summer of relaxation and discovery is thrown into disarray by the unexpected arrival of family friend Anne. This educated, virtuous and elegant woman gradually drives Raymond, Elsa, Cécile and Cyril apart, sending the four protagonists into a spiral of bitterness and deception that accelerates towards the novel’s tragic end.

This novel pays close attention to the attitudes and impressions that flood the teenage Cécile’s mind with every encounter and event. Through its account of her passionate and volatile nature, it encapsulates the naivety, but also the urgency and emotional intensity of her position on the threshold of adulthood. Her thoughts and feelings are captured with a sensitivity that can only be achieved by an author who shares them, and so it is perhaps Sagan’s young age at the time of writing which makes her protagonist so lifelike and her story so popular. Bonjour tristesse won the Prix des Critiques in the year that it was published and sits at number 41 in Le Monde’s top 100 books of the 20th century. It is a must-read of French literature and its direct and simple style make it very accessible for non-native speakers.  


Photo of the author, Françoise Sagan