"If you want to be happy, it's best to be French." In a blend of memoir, philosophy and literary criticism, the writer and comedian charts her lifelong love affair with France and French literature through 12 books which she believes encapsulate the meaning of joie de vivre, and demonstrate a "swagger" that is unique to French thinking. From Bonjour Tristesse by Franoise Sagan to L'etranger by Albert Camus, she constructs a convincing case for the joy and elan to be found in such works. Even when the work in question is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Now 6th April 2021.
Viv Groskop is more judicious in exploring her French obsession. In Au Revoir, Tristesse, the writer and comedian selects 12 pivotal titles in an exploration of her relationship with the country’s language and culture. This is a literary journey with a personal destination: French was the author’s “first love”, a frantic fumbling of joyful inexperience and embarrassment emboldened by adolescent pen-pals and holidays, and the resulting anecdotes spill eagerly from the pages, signposted by reflections on some of the country’s best-known books.
Indeed, the best parts of Au Revoir, Tristesse are when Groskop describes the changing nature of her relationship with France and the books that had such a crucial part in her self-definition. Where her teenaged self once looked to the repulsive womanising hero of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir as a model for her own romantic aspirations, he now repulses her. Where the hedonism of Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse once signified the casual indifference of individual desire, it now represents the recklessness of youth.
Take your lessons from the great authors and you may find that life feels richer and fuller, that you have become kinder and, as a consequence, happier. That’s for the long term. But for the time being, tap into Groskop’s over-bursting enthusiasm for her subject. This book offers the simple happiness of knowing that there are loads of amazing French novels out there still waiting to be read — or re-read.