Bonjour Tristesse is a novel by Francoise Sagan. It is a French novel and the title can be translated as “Hello Sadness”. The author was only 18 when it was published in 1954. The title was inspired from a poem by Paul Eluard “A Penine Dèfigurèe” which has lines “Adeiu tristesse, Binjour tristesse. This novel was an instant success nay an overnight sensation. Francoise Sagan has twenty novels, three short stories collection, nine plays and fifteen autobiographical works to her credit. All these were published while she was living. Eight of her works were published after her death. The book Bonjour Tristesse was made into a film in 1958. The story of Francoise was made into biographical film in 2008 and it was titled Sagan.
Bonjour Tristesse is a novel that revolves around three women and one playboy man. It starts with the present and then the narration moves to incidents that happened a year before. Cecile is a seventeen year old girl and she lives in Paris with her father. The story begins with her joining her father in a night club where his father is with latest mistress Denise and she muses that she feels “Surrounded by an invisible wall of memories.” It is those memories that make the rest of the plot of the novel. She muses about the previous summer on the Riviera.
Cecile and Raymond are vacationing at a villa by the sea. Raymond is her playboy father and she addresses him as Raymond. They have company and that is Elsa the latest mistress of Raymond. Elsa is a silly young woman but got along well with Cecile. Both took a liking for one another and everything suited fine. One day Cecile spots a young man struggling in the sea as his sailboat was disabled. Cecile dives to help him and she gets to know him. He is Philippe a law student who was vacationing with his mother and they were staying in the nearby villa. Soon this friendship blossoms into love. She is only seventeen and she takes this affair seriously and this was at the cost of her studies. Both Raymond and Elsa were too busy with their own affairs that they did not discourage Cecile from this affair with Philippe.
Into this idyllic summer arrives Anne. She come after announcing that she was coming and this was a response to an invite by Raymond some time before. Anne was Cecile’s mother‘s friend. Cecile’s mother had died when Cecile was young and since then she has been seeing her father with other women and as years were passing his women were getting younger. But Anne was different and she was as old as her mother. With the new person into the household, the sleeping arrangements change. The three women get one bedroom and Raymond moves to the beach house. Anne was more caring about Cecile as she was her friend’s daughter. Anne is shocked that Cecile is not really concerned with studies and she had failed her school examinations. She is also shocked that Elsa is just a few years older than Cecile and she realises is a bad influence over Cecile. Anne decides to take matters into her hands.
Anne stops Cecile from seeing Phillip and insists that she pay more attention on her studies. This irks Cecile as it is for the first time that someone was trying to control her life. Meanwhile Raymond gets more interested in Anne and starts to pay more attention to Anne and this irks Elsa. However the three put a façade of friendship and even Cecile treats Raymond as her lover more than a father. One day in a casino Elsa meets Pablo who was her previous lover. When the affair between Raymond and Anne gets torrid Elsa leaves with Pablo.
One day over breakfast Anne declares to Cecile that Raymond and she were getting married. Cecile is terrified her life thereafter would be a nightmare and wanted to stop the marriage. She conspires with Elsa. Elsa moves into the villa with Philippe’s mother and she pretends to be having an affair with Philippe. This was to arouse the jealous Raymond. And Cecile and Elsa are successful in this plot as he gets jealous seeing Philippe and Elsa dance in a party. Very next day Raymond lies to Anne and takes Elsa out for a walk into the woods. Anne walks into the woods and spots Raymond and Elsa making love. Raymond apologises to Elsa and even tells her that he had promised marriage to Anne only because Anne wanted to have sex with him.
Anne runs back to the house crying, jumps into the car and drives off. Cecile tries to stop her but in vain. Soon the word comes that Anne was killed in an accident. Cecile had only planned a breakup but life came to a total standstill after this for a short while. After a year, as the story is being narrated, everything was back to normal for Raymond. He was back with a new mistress. Cecile had not spoken to Philippe after that summer. Elsa was living with Pablo in South America.
The life of Cecile goes through some tumultuous days only to go back to its placid state with no changes whatsoever. Though the female characters are more in number all of their lives are affected by the central playboy character of Raymond. The plot takes place mostly in the resort near the sea side. Most of the characters come across as shallow and it is only Anne who has a strong character. Elsa is described thus “……… Elsa, a mediocre person, but with a pretty face. She had an extraordinary laugh, sudden and infectious, which only rather stupid people possess.” However Anne is different, she is earnest and wants to bring a change into the lives of the Raymonds. Cecile who has been living a carefree life is frustrated with the new rules in life. She wants this new person out of her life and plans a trap. Unfortunately the trap ends in tragedy and even Cecile is filled with remorse. Though Anne’s death is seen as accidental death, Raymond and Cecile knew that they were the cause of her death.
Bonjour Tristesse is about we react when we are threatened in our routine life and how we try to come out of it but still get what we want. This novel is about love including platonic and familial love. What amazes every reader is that Francoise was only eighteen when she wrote this and she had clearly brought the feelings of all kinds of love. She also brought clearly what would happen when the routine life is affected. The choice of the title is also apt as Cecile is sad at the beginning of the story and end of the story. Many things happened in between but eventually nothing changed for her. So her greeting with sadness remains.