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and it reads like one. The book is remarkable
on February 15, 2015
The quality of any work of art is intrinsic, self-evident in the thing itself, independent of its creator. The art either has inherent merit, or it does not. Judged objectively, Bonjour Tristesse (“Hello, Sadness”) has little literary merit. It is a pedestrian melodrama of a teenage vixen, such as one might find in any grocery store “coming of age” romance. It is not even truly a novel, but a long short story of 28,000 words that might have been as aptly entitled, “How I Ruined My Father’s Summer Romance and Lost My Virginity.” The writing itself is simplistic in plot and awkward in style, especially in the transitions of time and scene. The story is superficial and fails to develop its characters or theme, and it is surprisingly devoid of ideas. It is a juvenile work, and it reads like one.
The book is remarkable, as the comments here attest, only because it was written by a girl of eighteen, whose own amorality, self-absorption, lack of purpose, and sense of hopelessness and ennui are reflected in her heroine. Had the book been written by a man or woman of forty, it would have been declared hack work, at best. But as the work of a teenage French girl, it created a literary sensation in 1954, not for its inherent quality, but for the personna of its author, a personna which resonated with an entire generation of French men and women, who having known defeat by the Germans and having narrowly survived only through wholesale collaboration with the Nazis and liberation by the Allies, were as amoral, lost, hopeless, bored, and lacking in purpose as the author.
As proof of the foregoing, one may note that Sagan subsequently wrote 19 more novels, 9 plays, and many short stories, all of them better written than this book, but none of which achieved even a fraction of her first success. When the novelty was gone, there was nothing left but the shell of celebrity, a woman who was merely famous for being famous. Nearly all of her works feature the same romantic themes, the same wealthy, disillusioned bourgeois characters, and the same nihilistic existential undertones. Sagan herself lived as recklessly and irresponsibly as the characters she wrote about and came to a predictably unhappy end. Today, she is better remembered for her celebrity than her writing. And deservedly so.