“Bonjour Tristesse” and “A Certain Smile” by Françoise Sagan

Every once in a while, a book or author comes along that blows everything or everyone else out of the water. Françoise Sagan is one of those authors.

I’ve just finished Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by this author, and I’m completely stunned by how staggeringly good these two books are. From the very first paragraph I was in awe of the writing; it was the best opening of any book I have ever written. I’m not exaggerating, I honestly feel the writing is just sublime.

Bonjour Tristesse is the story of a summer on the French Riviera for Cécile, a seventeen year old, who is living a carefree life with her widowed father and his latest girlfriend. When her father decides to remarry, it turns Cécile’s world upside down. The main theme of the book is morality and whether it is possible to be without moral sense or if it is something inherent within all of us.

A Certain Smile follows the love affair between law student Dominique and an older married man, Luc, the uncle of her boyfriend. It is an honest look at the emotional journey of a young woman embarking on an affair, and considers the truth of what love is.

The translations by Irene Ash are superb, and while I’ve already mentioned that Bonjour Tristesse has the best opening of a book I’ve ever read, the final paragraph of A Certain Smile, while deceptively simple, is profound yet real, and brought a complete sense of closure to the narrative. All of this seems all the more incredible when you realise that Sagan wrote Bonjour Tristesse, her first novel, when she was just eighteen, with A Certain Smile following just two years later.

These books have made such an impact on me, I won’t be picking up another book for a couple of days, as I want to ponder and savour them before starting something new.


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