At just 18 years of age, Françoise Sagan burst into the French literary world with her iconic work “Bonjour Tristesse“. Written from the point of view of a 17 year old, the book would set the tone for what would define Sagan’s literary universe for a long time. Stories of rich, bored people who toyed with each others emotions in extremely tangled romantic situations. The French press would call Sagan’s literary work “the small golden world of Sagan”. Written in impeccable prose, this small music, punctuated with regularity France’s literary landscape, as Sagan wrote with prolific pace (close to thirty books in thirty years). The young precocious sensation of the 50s transformed herself into a respected writer with a grand body of work, but it was difficult to separate her from the hedonism and insouciance of her early books.
All this, Sagan, tried to change with De Guerre Lasse, published in the early 80s. She chose an unfamiliar setting for her audience- Occupied France in 1942. And immediately, the game board became much bigger. Till then, in all her books, the romantic entanglements of her characters could only wreak havoc on their worldly reputations. But now, the twists of the plot followed the path traced by the madness of history.
Sagan places a woman between a handsome coward and an idealistic hero and so, the choice becomes something more than just dumping a blond for a brown headed twenty something. The Coward, is Charles, who comfortably placed in his estate in the South of France, is happy that Petain had chosen the best route possible by collaborating with Hitler, who he believes will lose someday. Little does he suspect that his freedom in the “Zone-Libre” is counted. He is happy to dedicate his day to his leather factory and his nights to his numerous love affairs.
Charles is confronted with his childhood friend, Jerome, and his mistress Alice, who seek asylum in his estate before trying to flee France. Jerome belongs to the Resistance. As does Alice. Charles, who feels that all war is absurd, tries to talk his friend out of his idealism. Jerome is revolted by the carefree life Charles lives in a troubled time. And Alice, struggles to choose the right side, while her heart tells her to go the other way.
The plots twists its way, with existential tones, to a dramatic climax. Sagan’s prose is poetic as always and her command of the language is unparalleled. Her characters fluctuate between desire and duty as the absurd pettiness of their everyday life clashes with the larger things at stake. The fluid style accentuates their crisis while also immersing the reader into the landscape of those times.
In short, a great and a very different work, from one of the greatest prose masters in French.
De Guerre Lasse is available widely in translation. Needless to say it is best enjoyed in its original French. In case you would like to start reading French literature in French, you can always enroll yourself for an online French Course at Babel School of Languages 🙂