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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Book review: The Colombian Mule by Massimo Carlotto

The Colombian Drug Mule

Massimo Carlotto

Title: The Colombian Mule

Author: Massimo Carlotto, translated into English by Christopher Woodall.

Genre: World Noir

Publisher:Europa Editions

Publication date: 3rd September 2013

Paperback:144 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? My boyfriend bought this paperback at the same British Museum exhibition where I bought Delirium (reviewed here) – he heartily recommend it but wouldn’t guest review it so I took on the burden of reading it myself.

Refreshments:Whether you like the taste or not you need to drink Calvados, I didn’t know what this was at first but it’s rather tasty although pretty potent being a Apple Brandy.

To eat, one of the characters keeps creating some delicious sounding yet simple pasta, shocking when it’s set in Italy, so alongside your Apple Brandy try one of these recipes by Antonio Carluccio out – don’t forget to stock up on a couple of Rennie.

Review:

Arias Cuevas sets in motion a chain of bloody events when police catch him trying to carry a shipment of la Tía’s cocaine into Italy. The intended recipient of the coke appears to have been art smuggler Nazzareno Corradi, but Corrardi has been set up and through his lawyer hires “the Alligator” to get him out of the mess he’s in. Meanwhile, la Tía, a notoriously ruthless figure in the Colombian drug trade, is determined to move her operation to Italy where cocaine has become all the rage among the professional classes. There’s only one thing standing in her way: the Alligator, an ex-con turned investigator, and his two companions, former underworld heavy, Beniamino Rossini, and Max the Memory, a once militant political activist.

The important point to note is that this is loosely based on real-life events that took place to not only Massimo Carlotto but an anonymous friend who is represented by the character of Corradi, both men who at one point was wrongly imprisoned by the Italian justice system, the latter who is still imprisoned. This added an extra dimension of interest to a story that already captured my attention due to the shocking and often distressing elements accompanied by a thread of pride and following the criminals ‘code.’

Providing a chill down the spine was La Tia, the Queen of Colombia coke-trafficking and blood-aunt of the foolish Arias Cuevas who we have to thank for her coming to Italy. Her quiet and composed demeanor creates an instant atmosphere in comparison to a hot-headed drug baron. Her colleagues are equally terrifying from the imaginative killer that follows in the shadows to her girlfriend who is tricky with a hair pin. Probably the most sinister is the appropriation of Corradi’s stunning but traitorous girlfriend who she takes back to Colombia.

The pages are stepped in strip clubs and heavy drinking and it is here we learn the most about the Alligator and his inability to let the past and his resentments go to the detriment of a woman who loves and cares for him. The Alligator’s side-kicks are extremely different although inextricably intertwined, Rossini is violent and has cops in his pay he represents the frank acceptance of a situation that isn’t going to change and accepts his place in the system. Then we have Max, who is, I guess the brains behind the plans – he also provides the recipes that resulted in extreme hunger and a desire to fly straight to Italy.

The plot is at times complicated and there are a lot of names, roles and connections to keep track of it’s not something you can read with only half of your concentration and there were a couple of occasions I had to go back a couple of pages. However, the ending is not sugar-coated or tied up neatly in a celebratory bow it’s honest and frank and leaves you satisfied that you haven’t been duped into believing everything will always turn out positive – especially when the criminal underworld is involved.

Finally I have to confess I never usually read the ‘Author’s Note’ at the end as it’s more often than not a list of people the author would like to thank. However, in this instance I urge you to read the note as it’s extremely thought-provoking regarding criminal justice in Italy and also gives further insight into the motivations behind this brilliant book.

Rating: 8 out of 10