In 1954, when Bonjour Tristesse
first came out, it caused a scandal. It was daring of Françoise Sagan to write a novella about seventeen-year-old Cécile who lives with her playboy father and doesn’t mind his changing affairs. Hypocritical post-war society was even less prepared for reading the first-person-narrative of a girl who doesn’t see any sense in studying, who drinks too much, who interfers with her father's marriage plans, and who enjoys her first sexual experiences with her boyfriend Cyril without the faintest intention of getting married because it's a summer flirt. I can well imagine people calling such a novella amoral and dangerous for the youth. Certainly it was ahead of its time, ahead of the sexual revolution of the 1960s as we know now.
However, Bonjour Tristesse
is a psychological, not an erotic novel. In a simple and matter-of-fact language Françoise Sagan, who was only 18 years old herself at the time, describes the confusion of the adolescent on the brink of adulthood who never had a mother to guide her and rebel against, nor a father accepting his role and responsibility. Cécile enjoys her empty and carefree life because she doesn’t know anything else. When her late mother's old friend and her father's new finacé Anne shows her that there could and should be more, she shrinks back since it means growing up and taking responsibility
There’s much truth in Bonjour Tristesse
and it has lost nothing of its power. Quite on the contrary! In a society based on consumption and entertainment we’re all in danger to succumb to the temptation of a carefree and superficial life – if only in our spare time away from the inevitable duties and responsibilities of daily life. It’s not without reason that escapist books make up such a huge part of the market. I prefer literature which makes me think. As a teenager I might have benefited more from Bonjour Tristesse
by Françoise Sagan, but even at my age it has been an excellent read which deserves my recommendation.