In Sagan, Paris 1954 Anne Berest delicately weaves multiple narrative threads. The events of early 1954 that led up to the publication of Bonjour Tristesse, and the reflections of a woman who is going through “one of the most painful periods of her life” since being separated from the father of her daughter – Berest herself. What emerges is an exposition that criss- crosses genres: the novel, biography, fictionalised autobiography.
Anne Berest had been immersed in the writing of her third novel when Denis Westhoff, the only son of Françoise Sagan, approached her. In his “soft, staccato tone,” he asked her to write a book about his mother. “We will soon be marking the tenth anniversary of her death… and I would like people to remember just what the publication of Bonjour Tristesse represented for society back in 1954.”
Bonjour Tristesse written in six weeks and published almost immediately was a literary triumph. A refined story told by a young sophisticate about boredom and love. What’s arresting is the tone, the voice. The cool, clear eyed, sure footedness of the young woman narrator, her steady nonchalance.
It is probably Sagan’s abiding fearlessness, intimately wound up with her recklessness and voraciousness that pulses through her text and her life, catching her public’s attention. Hers is the glamour of both a Paris Match style combined with a real love of books.
In the end, this is a tale not just about a debut novel, but a layered encounter between two women, both writers, both French.