First English edition
|Publisher||Rene Julliard (France)
John Murray (UK)
Published in English
Bonjour Tristesse (French: "Hello Sadness") is a novel by Françoise Sagan. Published in 1954, when the author was only 18, it was an overnight sensation. The title is derived from a poem by Paul Éluard, "À peine défigurée", which begins with the lines "Adieu tristesse/Bonjour tristesse..." An English-language film adaptation was released in 1958, directed by Otto Preminger.
Seventeen-year-old Cécile spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera with her father and his mistress. Her father, Raymond, is a seductive, worldly, amoral man who has had many affairs. His latest woman friend is Elsa Mackenbourg: she and Cécile get on well. When Elsa comes to the villa to spend her summer with Raymond, it is clear that she is the latest of many women whom Cécile has seen enter the life of her father and exit fairly quickly: young, superficial, and fashionable. Raymond excuses his philandering with an Oscar Wilde quote about sin: "Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world." Cécile says, "I believed that I could base my life on it", and accepts their lifestyle as typical. Cécile, at 17, is still somewhat naïve and tries to disguise this by attempting to attract men of the same age as her father. Her love life is unsuccessful until she meets a man in his 20s, Cyril, with whom she has a romantic but ultimately dissatisfying relationship.
Raymond, Elsa and Cécile are spending an uneventful summer together until Anne Larsen arrives by way of an earlier invitation from Raymond. A friend of Cécile's late mother, Anne is very different from Raymond's other girlfriends. She is cultured, educated, principled, intelligent, and is his age. Raymond eventually leaves Elsa for Anne, and the next morning Anne and Raymond announce their impending marriage. At first, Cécile admires Anne, but soon a struggle begins between Cécile and Anne for Raymond's attentions. The plot begins to focus on the relationship between the two women. Realizing that Anne will do away with their carefree lifestyle, Cécile devises a plan to prevent the marriage.
She arranges for Elsa and Cyril to pretend to be a couple, and to appear together at specific moments in the hopes of making Raymond jealous of Cyril so that if Raymond decides he wants Elsa back, he'll leave Anne. Cécile is jealous and desperate for Anne to recognize the life she and her father have shared, but she misjudges Anne's sensitivity with tragic results. When Raymond finally relents and goes into town to see Elsa, Anne leaves, only to drive her car off a cliff in a suspected suicide after she sees Elsa and Raymond in the woods together. It is later known that they were kissing.
Cécile and her father return to the empty, desultory life they were living before Anne interrupted their summer.
An early brief review of Irene Ash's English translation (John Murray, 1955), in The Times of 19 May 1955, describes it as "An unusual little fiction ... written by a 19-year-old girl from the Dordogne ... a nice piece of precosity". The reviewer in The Spectator of the same date said "Bonjour, Tristesse, which has achieved remarkable celebrity by virtue of its subject-matter and its authoress's age, is a vulgar, sad little book".