The French Lit post

Too many reviews, not enough time! But I noticed that I read three French novels last month, and decided to make one post with three short reviews of them. Because, you know, they are all French 😉

Seventeen year old Cécile spends the summer with her father, Raymond, and the latest of his lovers, Elsa, at the French Rivera. They are all enjoying the sun and water during the day and the casinos at night until Anne, the friend of her late mother arrives. Elsa has to step aside for sophisticated and serious Anne, and Cécile finds their lifestyle of pleasure and idleness threatened.

Bonjour Tristesse is Francoise´s Cécile´s coming-of-age story, and perhaps the ultimate one. Cécile is, surprisingly, a likable character. She is bitchy and immature one minute, contemplative and precocious the next. I wonder if it helped that Sagan was very young when she wrote this novel, or does one need to be distanced from that age to better reflect on it? I think Cécile´s conflicting behaviour is well-explained, and I always find it a pleasure to read books with characters who are complex and not straightforward. Cécile schemes and plays the adults around her beautifully, but she doesn´t do it coldly. Besides the worry about Anne changing their hedonistic lifestyle to one that is serious and stuffy, the fear that her close relationship with her father might change, too, always shines through.  As long as Raymond changes lovers often and never becomes attached, Cécile will come first with her father. I enjoyed reading this classic a lot, it´s very atmospheric, I would recommend reading it in summer (so now! 🙂 ). There´s also a lot going on despite the relative shortness of the book, there´s the description of the French Rivera in the 50s/ 60s, existentialism, people´s loneliness and superficial pleasure, drama, and more.

Other thoughts:

Violet at Still Life with Books

Another book, nearly everyone has read and reviewed, so what is there left to say? For those who haven´t read Bord de Mer (engl: Beside the Sea) yet, this is all that should be said about the content: A mother takes her two young sons to see the sea.

I can only agree that this is a darkly atmospheric little book. It quickly becomes obvious that the trip to the sea is not as innocent as one might expect. The fact that they set out at night should be a clue. As readers we are restricted to and nearly imprisoned by the mother´s narrative voice. There is a sense of foreboding from the very beginning and the atmosphere becomes more and more oppressive. Olmi turns expectations of the sea and motherhood upside down. This is a haunting story, and I can see why it got so many glowing reviews. Olmi has written other short novels, but is also very well-known for her plays.

Other thoughts:

Amy at Amy Reads

La Tête en Friche (German title can be translated as The Labyrinth of Words) is narrated by 40-year-old Germain who is not so smart but big and strong. In the park he meets an old lady called Margueritte who is basically his opposite in everything. A tentative friendship grows between them, at first because of their shared interest in counting doves, and then because Margueritte  teaches Germain to think about the world by reading books to him.

This constellation reminded me strongly of The Mighty, physical versus intellectual prowess. I enjoyed reading this book, although I have to say that there are two levels on which you can read it. Strangely enough this coincides a bit with what the two main characters represent. You can read this book the way Germain looks at the world, very matter-of-fact and not aware of the deeper meanings. Then this will be a charming story about unlikely friendships and the power of literature (and this is how I read it, until I started thinking about what to write in my post, and suddenly became aware of a less flattering meaning of this book). This reading has a lot of advantages, I think we all like to believe that books can teach us to understand the world better or to look at it in a new way. And a nice older woman acting as a sort of grandma and mentor in one can be a wonderful and enriching influence.

However, and I hope I´m not overanalysing this, there is another level to this book, and it is one I found slightly disturbing. Margueritte and Germain are so very cliché and representative of  what should be an old-fashioned class system. Germain is a stupid working class man, loud and very physical. But through Margueritte´s (and the intellectual elite´s) influence he is miraculously transformed, and he is happier and a better person because of it. But then, I might be overly critical and this is just a charming and heartwarming story. I wish you´d all read it and let me know what you make of it, but it hasn´t been translated yet, so you have to know French or German (I´m not sure if it´s been translated into any other languages). La Tête en Friche has been adapted to film, here´s the trailer, but again, it´s French.

Have you reviewed any of these books? Let me know and I´ll add the link.

27 thoughts on “The French Lit post

  1. All three sound interesting. Actually, who am I kidding, I just read Beside the Sea today and JUST finished writing my review of it 😉 It’s scheduled for later next week though. The other two books look interesting though so I will be watching for them… in English though probably!

    1. Oh, did you love Beside the Sea, too? Can´t wait to read your thoughts on it. At least Bonjour Tristesse has been translated into English!

        1. It is really very dark, but somehow I loved it. I guess I can take the creepiness if the book´s so short 😀

    1. There are so many great French books, I´d definitely recommend reading Bonjour Tristesse. And have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog? And then there are the classics of course 🙂

  2. You can read French too?!! Super, super jealous! 🙂

    They sound great. The first one I’ve heard a lot about. It sounds interesting but I’m not sure I want to read about an 18 year old’s ranting, however it may be disguised. I have to say though, there must be something about the French and hedonism that goes hand in hand. I love it.

    I do want to read The Sea though. Sounds fantastic and suspenseful.

    1. Haha, nope, it takes me ages to struggle through French, I´m only at level A1! I´ve read them in German.

      Maybe you should just skim a couple of pages of Bonjour Tristesse to see how you like it, it´s of course the thoughts of a 17 year old, but it isn´t ranting, that would be so un-French! 😉

      I think everyone loves Beside the Sea, so perhaps it´s a safe bet 🙂

  3. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like you most definitely have a point about the class issues. I hope it gets translated soon so I can read it and discuss it with you further 😛

    As for the other two, they’re on my wishlist!

    1. Yes, they´d better hurry up with the translation, I want another opinion 🙂 But I´m glad that my argument does seem to make sense to you!

  4. J’amerais lire Bord de la Mer juste pour trouver cette histoire sombre d’une mere avec ces enfants. Mais si c’est une histoire noire.. a ca peut causer des fracas et l’ennuies pour ma sommeil.

    L’autre qui m’interesse est La Tete en Friche. C’es al premiere fois que j’entends parler de ce titre. Voila nous allons faire une petite detour a la bibliotheque… ou malheuresment je suis “personna non gratta” 🙂

    Bravo merci beaucoups pours les revues. Avez vous essayez les ecrivains Quebecois? Michel Tremblay ?

    PS English translation of above… Damn good reviews.. french tends to be long winded… Rememeber a “sneeze” tends to take up 3 paragraphs ;P

    1. Haha, I certainly hope reading Bord de Mer won´t disturb your sleep! It´s kind of slow and atmospheric, so maybe you´ll just find yourself thinking about it for a couple of days 🙂

      Hope you managed to make it out of the library, or did you have to wear a disguise? 😉 At least you obviously know French, so please read La Tête en Friche soon so that you can tell me whether it´s charming or condecending.

      Had to google Michel Tremblay, the shame! I haven´t heard of him before, but his play Les Belles-Sœurs sounds very interesting. I´ll have to look for the translation though, I don´t think I´m ready for that variety of French and the joual yet!

      And I hardly noticed the typos! So, I hope I understood the French correctly and am not rambling on instead of properly replying 😀

  5. typo of above….

    C’es al = C’est la // rememeber = remember

    Voila those nasty little typos… voila ma “Achilles Talon” is my typos 🙂

  6. Wow this is a wonderful collection! I particularly loved your review of Bonjour Tristesse, it sounds like such a delightful book 🙂 Is there a movie made of it? Because the title sounds really familiar to me… 🙂

    1. Thanks, I hope you´ll enjoy Bonjour Tristesse! And yes, there´s a movie with Jean Seberg, David Niven and others. I haven´t seen it yet, but I really want to 🙂

  7. I can see I need to walk through this door you’ve opened! Thanks for letting me (us) know about such great French lit; I’ve been too immersed in Japanese, I think, if there is such a thing. 😉

    1. That works out well, I get to find out about must-read Japanese literature from you! Hope you´ll like these books, and you can even read them in French, the envy! 🙂

  8. I enjoyed reading your reviews of all the three books 🙂 ‘The Labyrinth of Words’ seems to be a really interesting book. I hope they come out with an English translation. Maybe Europa Editions will publish that 🙂 I liked very much your comment on ‘Bord de Mer’ : “As readers we are restricted to and nearly imprisoned by the mother´s narrative voice.” Very beautifully put!

    1. Thank you, Vishy! Glad you liked it 🙂 At least two out of three have been translated into English, it´s a start 😉 And Europa Editions is really great, I love that they are brining translated fiction to the US (and in such pretty editions).

  9. Your review makes “Bonjour, Tristesse” sound really interesting. I am planning to read it this summer.

    1. Hope you´ll enjoy it, and let me know what you think of it :)We should watchg the film together if you´re around Ddorf in Aug/Sept!

      1. I am going to fly back to Germany on 8 September, so I will be around. Would love to watch the film with you!

  10. I read “Bonjour Tristesse” and “A Certain Smile” in May this year. I liked the former very much, but my review of the latter tells me that I found it a little dreary. 🙂 Everyone seems to be reading “Beside the Sea” and loving it. Perhaps I will have to buy a copy.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Bonjour Tristesse, too. Oh and I linked to your review 🙂 Maybe I´ll give A Certain Smile a try at some pint, but if you find it a bit dreary. . .
      Beside the Sea is really a great little book, hope you can get a copy! 🙂

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