Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.11.01 Title: Bonjour Tristesse

Author: Françoise Sagan (translated by Irene Ash)

Publisher: Re-issue by Penguin Essentials (2011)

Pages: 112

Screenshot 2015-07-25 10.16.08Where to read: Ideally by the French Riviera but if getting there isn’t logistically possible a quiet corner of a park – I chose Battersea Park on a bench near the water fountains one sunny day and happily whiled away a very pleasant few hours reading.

Where to buy: Belgravia Bookshop – I’m not on commission I promise I just simply love everything about this bookshop -location, atmosphere and of course the titles it sells-  a real haven for book lovers.

Refreshments: I was in the park so didn’t have much at my disposal aside from my packed lunch which was an Ottolenghi recipe of chicken and couscous salad which isn’t exceptionally French. However, I did finish the final pages sat on my tiny balcony drinking a dry gin martini (with Tanqueray No’10  which was rather delightful -and perhaps more refined!

Review:

The French Riviera: home to the Beautiful People. And none are more beautiful than Cecile, a precocious seventeen-year-old, and her father Raymond, a vivacious libertine. Charming, decadent and irresponsible, the golden-skinned duo are dedicated to a life of free love, fast cars and hedonistic pleasures.

But then, one long, hot summer Raymond decides to marry, and Cecile and her lover Cyril feel compelled to take a hand in his amours, with tragic consequences. “Bonjour Tristesse” scandalized 1950s France with its portrayal of teenager terrible Cecile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Cecile is our narrator for the heady three months of summer spent in a villa on the Riviera. Vibrant, manipulative and conflicted in her every waking thought and action she epitomizes the confusion of a woman emerging into adulthood and one whose equilibrium is upset by an outsider. Her father Raymond is a romantic and has his head turned by the swish of a skirt and a teasing smile the thought of growing old and domesticated is both appalling and appealing. I quickly fell in love with both of their characters and was drawn into the swirling vortex of their superficial lives and captivating beauty – one that caught anyone within a mile radius and swept them away so they forgot themselves and their lives before Raymond and Cecile.

Remarkable and aloof, Anne, entangles herself into their lives and attempts to adapt them to a life both decent and bourgeois. She is depicted as being acerbic and condescending but in actuality is trying to find her footing in a game that is being played with rules she doesn’t understand.

Sagan weaves these individuals lives with aplomb and the descriptions and detail of Cecile’s inner turmoil is simply stunning. A novella that will fit in your back pocket, handbag or simply your hand as you stroll off to the park I would recommend reading this to everyone -it’s a triumph and just so…French.

Rating: 10 out of 10

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Cigalon

CigalonWhere: Cigalon, Chancery Lane London

When: A Thursday evening at 7.30pm (Booktable offer £20 for 3-course and a champagne cocktail)

Cuisine: Provencal cuisine with a modern twist.

Ambiance: Beautiful ornate entrance that widens out to a quiet dining room filled with cosy booths and banquets. The muted pastel tones and the stunning high ceilings adorned with unique light fittings complete with leafy accessories brings the feeling of Provence into the heart of London’s central business district. Even with the open plan kitchen towards the back of the restaurant and the close proximity of other banquette diners the overall atmosphere was calm and peaceful – a welcome refuge from the working day.

Service: Exceptional service with waiters able to offer suggestions and explanations to some of the more detailed dishes. At times we felt that we were interrupted a bit more than was completely necessary but that was likely down to them having more staff on than they really required.

Screenshot 2015-03-12 13.28.05Food:

Whilst perusing the set menu we were brought fresh warm bread and a tapenade that had a good course texture and zing without being overly acidic.

For a starter I had the poached salmon and spiced carrots. The salmon was a sizeable chunk and deliciously pink in the middle sliced as soft as butter and had a delicate flavour. This was sat on a bed of sweet potato puree which contrasted beautifully with and balanced out the spiced carrots. My dining partner had the baked beetroot that I was assured was equally delicious.

Main course I stuck with the fish option which was, grilled bream fillet, cima di rapa & tonnato sauce. The skin of the fish was lovely and crispy but slightly over salted for my tastes, however the fish underneath was grilled to perfection and served with the cima – which when it arrived revealed it to be a cross between broccoli and spinach – and a cream sauce. The Cima was a revelation – I already am rather obsessed with green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli so this is another to add to the list of sides. The sauce was okay but I would have preferred it either on the side or just a drizzle over the top, for me it was extremely rich and my plate was swimming slightly.

The dessert was rosemary cream pot & morello cherry coulis which was served in a delightful clay pot and was tasty with the herb flavour coming through at the end. I would eat it again but it wasn’t overly memorable.

(NB: Three choices for each course including one vegetarian option)

Drink:

Champagne cocktail was served in the traditional champagne saucers that I love so they were already onto a winner. A well-made and refreshing cocktail that actually tasted as though it had been made with some care and attention and NOT a premixed sugar or juice sloshed into a glass of weak prosecco.

During dinner we shared a carafe of the house white wine which was dry, crisp and perfectly quaffable. Then post dinner – and as it was still quite early – we had another cocktail!

It should be noted that the wine and spirit list is extensive and really rather impressive – especially the gin varieties and attention paid to calvados!

Price: Set menu is usually £26 which is still pretty reasonable.

We had the £20 for 3-course & cocktail + carafe of house wine + a cocktail = £40 inc. service.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – definitely recommend and will certainly be returning here as well as visiting their sister bar next door – Baranis

 

 

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

9781908313867Title: The Red Notebook

Author: Antoine Laurain (translated by Emily Boyce & Jan Aiken)

Publisher: Gallic Books (published 14th April 2015)

Pages: 159 pages

Where to read this book? Paris – predictably – ideally around Montmartre in the Spring.

Refreshments: A glass of champagne and a nicoise  salad.

Review:

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

Whimsical, charming and absolutely delightful Antoine Laurain has produced yet another perfect companion to a quiet afternoon. Our male lead, Laurent is quiet and idealistic living the dream life after leaving behind a busy job in investment banking to run a bookshop. His daughter Chloe has the arrogance of youth and should really be incredibly frustrating – but even she manages to endear herself due to her enviable relationship with her father and her ferocious desire to see him happy. The narrative switches beautifully between Laurent and Laure – the beguiling mauve handbag owner – and you almost feel like a voyeur as you watch their relationship develop – it made me smile.

Quintessentially French and capturing a fairytale romance without being saccharine The Red Notebook is another winner from Antoine Laurain.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Monsieur le Commandant by Romain Slocombe

Monsieur le CommandantRomain Slocombe

Title: Monsieur le Commandant: A wartime confession.

Author: Romain Slocombe (translated into English by Jesse Browner)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Gallic Books – specialist in translations.

Publication Date: 16th September 2013.

Paperback: 208 pages

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone

Why did I choose to read this book? Belgravia Books has perfected their email marketing as not only did I end up buying a book but I also recieved an early edition of this one for free!

Where to read? The Parlour Room, at Sketch London. This venue mixes the avant garde style of Paris mixed with the comfortable charm of her cafe culture.

Refreshments: Apologies for another book set in France, however, to drink, you need a strong coffee as this story is not for the faint hearted. To accompany indulge in some delcious homemade (shop bought) cake

Review:

It is autumn 1942 in Paris, Pétain has assumed the presidency and France is occupied by German forces. In this environment of political collaboration and intrigue, French writer, academic and Nazi sympathiser, Paul-Jean Husson pens a letter to his local SS officer detailing an elaborate and scandalous confession that leads to a tragic conclusion.

The writing style of this novella, being that of a letter, makes the story extremely addictive and engaging. The use of the first person account enables Slocombe to develop the character of Husson and provide the reader with an in-depth and terrifying insight into his mind (and that of certain sectors of French society). In addition, it effectively creates the suspense and fear that infiltrated, so completely, this period of French history.

Husson, the main protagonist and central figure of this entire story is a horrific human being. The covetous relationship he has with his daughter in law, Ilse, which forms the key thread of his letter, is vulgar and at times Slocombe’s frank descriptions of Husson’s feelings are shocking.  The letter spans a long period of time as Husson wants to explain the reason behind his ‘confession’. These sections contain justifications for his actions, and the details are illuminating into how collaborationists during the Nazi occupation explained away their behaviours, in particular to the Jewish question.

Throughout the letter, we are also introduced to Husson’s family and the one that stands out is his son Olivier. This is Ilse’s husband who ends up absconding to join the resistance in London thereby leaving his young wife and children to fend for themselves in Paris. At this Husson declares Olivier ‘dead to him,’ a detail that provides him with additional reasoning behind his future actions.

Historically, this was quite obviously a dark period of French social history and Slocombe, born in Paris in the 1950’s to a Jewish mother, much have felt some connection. He has successfully and extremely effectively woven shocking passages of torture and descriptions of the French Gestapo amongst the letter’s pages. These are often unexpected and you’ll find one near the end of the story particularly unpleasant. I was interested to read that this was based on a true story and it was a nice, although sad, addition to have the epilogue of the characters at the end of the book.

Overall, Slocombe has captured the suspense and terror of the period within each page of this novella to create a significant depiction of French collaboration during the Second World War.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Further Reading:

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

mitterrand-grandThe-Presidents-Hat

Title: The President’s Hat (Le Chapeau de Mitterand)

Author: Antoine Laurain – play spot the hat!

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Gallic Books – specialist in translated works.

Publication Date: 28th March 2013.

Paperback: 208

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone

Why did I choose to read this book? I love Belgravia Bookshop which is owned by Gallic Books and this story took my fancy. It also didn’t hurt that it was a signed edition AND the cover included a serrated section that tore off to become a bookmark! (NB: All book covers should have this!)

Where to read? Head to Paris and sit outside the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in the sunshine and enjoy reading and people watching with a picnic.

Refreshments: As mentioned a picnic is my choice for this book. So if you heed my advice and head to Paris then it will be pretty easy to pick up: a baguette, cheese, cured meats, salad and a bottle of crisp white Muscadet wine.

Review:

‘Objects pass from hand to hand but people and perfumes remain’

It’s 1986 and officer worker Daniel Mercier faced with dinner alone decides to treat himself to a slap up meal in a Parisian brasserie. Seated at the banquet bottle of Pouilly-Fumé in hand seafood platter on the way he is shocked when President Francois Mitterand enters and occupies the seat next to him. After dragging his oysters out for as long as he can Mercier watches as Mitterand leaves the restaurant without his hat. Emboldened by the wine Mercier swiftly snatches the hat inadvertently setting off a chain of unexpected life events for the people of Paris.

After reading the jacket of this book, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just about the life of Daniel Mercier, but in fact a collection of short stories deftly woven together by a felt hat. When Daniel leaves the hat on the train it is discovered by a woman on her way to meet her lover, the hat then meets a perfumer and later a right-wing city gent.  We are introduced to each of the characters when they are at a stage in their lives where they need something to boost their morale and for them the hat translates into that strength. Although initially surprised I actually loved this style, with each episode offering a snapshot into the lives of very different people.

My favourite story concerns Aslan, a retired perfumer who finds that hat on a park bench. At the time of finding the hat he is dealing with a 6-year bout of depression and although he has a loving wife and son he sees no way out of the darkness. However, with the hat on his head things begin to change, slowly at first with the simple shaving of his beard, yet culminating in him finding himself and re-embracing life. The book is consistently optimistic in its tone, leaving you with the feeling that whatever the situation one eventuality can change your luck, especially when you aren’t looking for it.

In addition, after living in France for a year, and making many a trip to Paris whilst there, I have always loved French fiction and translations, not to mention the culture and lifestyle of the people. In his book Laurain manages to instil the whimsical and bright feeling of Paris, as well as the’ distinctive ‘devil may care’ attitude of the French – who cares that Mercier drinks a bottle of wine then gets behind the wheel? Plus, the historical details of the 1980’s regarding the politics as well as the architecture, in terms of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, were also woven in beautifully to give greater depth to the story.

Although, this book is really easy to read, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is immensely enjoyable and leaves you with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.