The first half of this tiny, unassuming book irritated me to no end. It wasn’t the scandalous and profound proclamation of sexual freedom that the blurb proclaimed it to be but instead, a petulant, moody teenager’s distaste for her prospective new step-mother. I disliked all the characters – Raymond was far from a father figure or the charming and seductive creature that he was supposed to be, Anne was prudish and over-bearing, Elsa imbecilic and Cecile herself a grumpy little girl who couldn’t make up her mind about anything and seemed far from her apparent seventeen years in maturity. As for Cyril, he was so nondescript and banal that he could hardly be considered a character at all. Anne treated Cecile like a mindless child too. I was further infuriated by the glowing reviews that reiterated how fantastic this novella is merely because it was written by a girl of such youth herself (Sagan was 18). I don’t see why the age of the author matters – writing is a talent, regardless of age, surely?
Then I put my book down to eat my dinner and when I came back to it, something had changed. Perhaps my full belly had rid me of my ‘hanger’ (hunger-induced anger) and fury. Or perhaps it was the incessant shooting sounds in the background of my living room adding a certain aura to a suddenly darker and more macabre story (no, the uprising hasn’t started but rather, the man in my life has taken to playing Halo with an incessant enthusiasm and drive that is almost enough to make me believe that indeed, the people have started to revolt). As soon as I picked up Bonjour Tristesse for the second time, I was barely able to tear my eyes away from the pages, as Cecile found herself spiralling further and further into despair and deceit. The moody teenager left us and in her wake, remained a scorned and hurt young woman (not completely grown up but not quite so young and petty as she first seemed) – perhaps as a result of her not changing her mind about her ‘plan’ every other page. The darkness in the second part of the story engrossed me and left me enthralled and grasped in the way that only books can do. Cecile’s psychology and motivation suddenly became an interest for me – I wanted to follow her and find out why; she was no longer the child who I wanted to wave away in boredom and disdain. And of course, the tale ended with that promised advocacy of free love and hedonism that I was so hoping for.
So all in all, ‘Hello Sadness’ left me with mixed feelings. Read at the right time in life, it could be hugely influential. Read at the wrong time, it has the potential to be infuriating and indeed, perhaps a little scandalous. Some may even find it boring. It’s one of those books that will change if you read at another time, it will take on different meanings and it will be nothing like that book you remember so fondly from your teenage years. No two groups of people will feel the same about it and I can imagine it causing great debate. It’s worth a read but you may have to push past the first 50 pages or so to get to your true feelings about it.
Note: Review first published on Goodreads.