“Boujour Tristesse” & “A Certain Smile” by Françoise Sagan
(“Bonjour Tristesse – First publication: 1952 / “A Certain Smile” – First publication: 1956 / This edition: Penguin Modern Classics 2013)
Taken on a humid day with my iced tea at the Made by Legacy Vintage Flea Market
What risk do you run? The risk of becoming attached to me and of suffering afterwards? So what? It’s better than being bored. You prefer to be happy and unhappy than for there to be just nothingness, don’t you? (pg.145)
There are two stories in this book: “Bonjour Tristesse” and “A Certain Smile”.
I remember the first time I encountered “Bonjour Tristesse” was about 2-3 years ago when I was browsing in Kinokuniya in Tokyo, looking for a short read. The title attracted me, the Francophile that I am. But I looked at the ratings on Goodreads and it wasn’t impressive, so… pass.
This book was an impulsive purchase. I was at Heathrow Airport, waiting for my flight back home—cheeks tear-stained, hoarding a bunch of Duty Free bags of Double Deckers, and just so depressed—I decided to distract myself from reality in a bookstore.
And the strategy did work because three bookshelves had big P-O-P signs that says “2nd BOOK HALF PRICE”. Honestly, though there was a “good selection”, there wasn’t really any that I felt like “I’ve been looking for this for so long, I need to get it, It’s now or never, What an incredible deal this is, I can finally get it.” But, as a common occurrence for people on their travels, I felt like I just had to get something—even though I had no more room in my carry on and I had already overspent (‘overspent’ might be too soft of a word, in this case).
I ended up getting only this book and Stefan Zweig’s “Impatience of the Heart”.
I didn’t really have high expectations for this book. I felt like I could already predict what it was going to be about—something about a French girl, some love drama, and it would be set in somewhere chic with cocktails and the beach.
I predicted right.
“Bonjour Tristesse” is about teenage wild child who is not content with her father having an affair with a woman she believes will ruin their lives and their “free-spirited” lifestyle. She manipulates a whole group of people and pretty much just caused wreckage in everyones’ lives.
I enjoyed “A Certain Smile” a bit more. “A Certain Smile” is about a teenage girl who falls in love with an older, married man. As much as she tried to prevent it, she ended up falling helplessly in love with him. But how often do things work out when you’re with a married man who still loves his wife?
But with both stories, I just felt a bit… tired, when talking about the content and story line. It gave me the same feeling as when I read “The Course of Love”—just a bit sad that the story is based on infidelity, but the society (in the story) is just so acceptable of it—as if it’s something that just happens to every family and that’s the way to stay happy.
I enjoyed it though—I was absorbed. It was one of those “just goes on and on, but it’s relaxing, mellow, and enjoyable” read. It made me think of Fitzgerald’s style. It’s simple (but beautiful) writing, about people going crazy because of love. (Hi, Gatsby.) Everything was somewhat predictable, but I guess it was just amusing to see the protagonists’ plans and minds unravel.
I guess you can say it’s very “stereotypical skinny pretty French girl in Paris/Cannes/Nice getting into scandalous situations with their open-minded ways, lifestyle, sex, and love like in the old, gritty, classic movies with English subtitles.”
It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was memorable and I’ll come back and read it again.
Here are some of my favorite lines from “Bonjour Tristesse”:
I had recognized for the first time what an extraordinary pleasure it is to be able to probe people, to expose them, to bring them into the light of day, and there, to touch them. I had sought to discover what drove an individual, in the same cautious way as when you go to put your finger on a spring, and the desired response had been immediately triggered. (pg.54)
One day I would love someone with a passionate love and I would seek out a way to him, just like that, cautiously, gently, and with trembling hand. (pg.55)
‘Your idea of love is a rather simplistic one. Love isn’t a series of isolated sensations…’ […]
‘It’s something different. It’s about constant tenderness, gentleness, missing a person… Things you wouldn’t understand.’ (pg.24)
Here are some of my favorite lines from “A Certain Smile”:
I had got to know the smell of my own body through this. It is always through the bodies of other people that you discover your own body, the length of it and the smell of it, distrustfully at first, and then with recognition. (pg.111)
Dreadful as it may sound, when you know someone you also know their way of suffering and it seems quite acceptable. Well, maybe not acceptable, but familiar, so you’re less scared of it. (pg.143)
We only feel good when we’re tired. […] it was true that I was one of those people who only feel good when they have killed off that part of themselves that is truly alive, that is demanding and full of care, that part of them that asks the question: ‘What have you made of your life and what do you want to make of it?’ to which I could only reply: ‘Nothing’. (pg.166)
There. […] I’m beside him, I have only got to stretch my hand out to touch him. I know his body, his voice, and the way he sleeps. He’s reading, I’m getting a little bored, it’s not unpleasant. We’ll presently go for dinner, then we’ll go to bed together and in three days’ time we’ll part. Things will probably never again be as they are just now. But this moment is here, it’s ours; I don’t know whether it’s love or just an understanding we have; that’s not important. We are each of us alone. He doesn’t know what I’m thinking about him; he’s reading. But we are together, and next to me I have whatever warmth he may feel for me and his indifference too. In six months, when we have gone our separate ways, it won’t be the memory of this moment that will come back to me, but other foolish, involuntary memories. And yet it’s probably this moment that I will have loved the most, the one when I accepted the fact that life is just as it appears to me now, quietly heart-breaking. (pg.169)