Book Club 2

GROUP CONVENOR – Christine Wright

We meet on the third Wednesday of the month at 1.00 pm in Par Community Library (PL24 2PB). If you enjoy reading and discussing the book you have read, come along and join us.

We usually get together after our book discussion for a tea or coffee (and maybe a cake!) at the cafe on site.

NB This group is now at capacity. Please contact the Group Convenor via the below form if you would like to be added to a waiting list.

Below are details of our recently read books.

April 2023 Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan

This book was written by a remarkably mature and accomplished teenage French writer (18 years old) in the late 1950s. It explores inter-age relationships, multiple manifestations of love, morality and lack of inhibition within the privileged, monied society of post-war France. After the French publication, England’s John Murray agreed on a translated version – though with many signs of a “blue pencil”  due to the erotic nature of the book. This also shows the contrast of semi-erotic literature by an 18 year old French girl versus the eventual publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence in 1960 after much argument and publicity.

(Apparently one of the prosecution counsel appealing to the jury said “Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read!”) If you read the French uncensored version, the eroticism is much more evident due to the French attitude being much more relaxed.

The book is written in the first person and details the intimate thoughts of a teenager who typically thinks only of herself. Cecile has only recently arrived to spend time with her handsome, socialite father and his lovers who are always beautiful young women who enjoy the wealthy glamorous life he provides for them. She accepts the lovers as necessary for her father’s pleasure but they do not affect her own enjoyment of life. She revels in the relaxed, pleasurable, unstructured lifestyle on the Cote d’Azur. She has her first sexual encounter with Cyril, a student of similar age, whom she meets on the beach one day and with whom she continues to spend time. Life is one long pleasurable holiday.

One day her father announces that his philandering days are over and he is to marry Anne, an old friend of many years who knows Cecile. Although Cecile likes Anne, she is not happy when Anne tries to prevent her from continuing her leisurely lifestyle in order for her to complete her studies.  Anne’s arrival and her assumption of a maternal role threatens to thwart Cecile’s hedonistic lifestyle. Anne forbids her to see Cyril so she can spend time studying for her degree. Knowing her father’s weaknesses, Cecile hatches a plan that achieves her goal but which ends in tragedy.  However, both father and daughter resume their self-centred lifestyle:

“Life took up again along its old lines as it was bound to”

Comments from some members of the group and obituary

“I had mixed feelings about this book.  I enjoyed the fresh, lively writing and the authentic sense of teenage self-obsession; I did though find the final twist a teenage melodrama too far. Overall, I was glad to have read the book (as a modern classic that, to be honest, I probably would never have read otherwise) but was also glad that it was a concise novella that was over quickly (much like Cecile’s carefree youth).”

“Rereading the book now I think the point of the story that comes across is about how a clever young person can knowingly develop power to manipulate, seduce and control older friends and family and seemingly take an evil thrill in the consequences and even after a horrific ending episode, with minimal reflection, move on with life”

“She doesn’t believe other people can have emotions as strong as hers and she is “the most important person”

“Her deep analysis of being in love, and as an observer of other people’s feelings is very French”

“This is a short story about how a 17-year-old French girl Celeste seeks revenge when her life is upset after her wealthy, widowed father announces he is going to marry Anne, one of his many lovers. I thought the relationship between Cecile and her father unrealistic”

 N.B. Sagan wrote her own obituary for the Dictionary of Authors compiled by Jérôme Garcin: “Appeared in 1954 with a slender novel, Bonjour Tristesse, which created a scandal worldwide. Her death, after a life and a body of work that were equally pleasant and botched, was a scandal only for herself.”

March 2023 Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette is adopted by the Wintersons (who wanted a boy). Mrs Winterson was a religious zealot and Jeanette spends most of her free time at church or associated events. She is force-fed hymns and the Bible which has the effect of creating her early love for books and appetite for words. This proved to be her salvation. She loved school, rising above the bullying she encountered and finding a couple of like-minded friends. Her life at home was miserable with Mrs W. finding fault and often leaving her outside on the doorstep overnight in the cold and burning her secret stash of books which she has been banned from reading

After this, Jeanette starts at “A to Z PROSE” at the library and works her way through the authors memorising the text, an amazing achievement. When she eventually discovers poetry (T. S. Eliot is one mentioned) she is delighted to find poetry is easier to remember! She is aided by the librarian and her teacher (who takes her into her home when Mrs W. chucks her out after finding her sleeping with a girlfriend).  Jeanette subsequently, through sheer grit, ability, and determination, manages to get a place at Oxford where life, becoming a writer, and becoming openly gay beckoned.

After being completely involved with her childhood and eventual escape, we suddenly jump 25 years – and are thrown into the total bleakness of her life when she actually says “language left me”. She has a total nervous breakdown and tries to commit suicide. She (and the reader) are right back to the helplessness of her first abandonment as a baby. There is still no sentimentality or self-pity in her description of the time and herself which makes it even more disturbing. Strangely her recovery leads to her forming a stable relationship with someone, finding her birth mother and revealing, understanding and forgiving her adoptive family. This then turns the early “monsters” into sad damaged people themselves. She had the strength of character to pursue her dreams and believed it was her upbringing that gave her the strength.  Amazingly she did not regret her biological mother‘s decision to give her up for adoption. 

Comments from the group

“She is giving us the background which developed her character, making it a sad and painful read but one that held my attention right to the end.    Having lived in industrial Manchester in the late 50s it brought back many memories for me. “

“But where were the “laugh out loud funny” bits, I thought as I finished the book. So I decided to re-read the book until I found an amusing bit funny enough to laugh out loud. And to my surprise I found it in the second paragraph of the first page where she tells us about the two pairs of false teeth!”.

“The use of black comedy emphasised the pain inflicted.  In my opinion a book well worth reading”

“A very addictive quick read due to engaging prose and particularly revealing descriptions of life in Lancashire in the late 60’s. Way more austere than my experience of post war recovery in the South. I felt it was a very honest account, no self-pity but an intimate explanation of tough love, religious obsession and extreme commitment to self-discovery. The author demonstrates an extraordinary intellect and memory .”

“Her writing is beautiful, succinct but delightfully descriptive. I laughed out loud at some pieces but also had to reflect with sadness, bringing me to tears on occasions.  It is also almost a book of two halves although they are obviously closely related.”

“As a story it is fascinating and disturbing. She didn’t like people. She was unhappy and depressed. I felt the whole book was her feeling sorry for herself”

“Jeanette wrote that “she was never going to be a nobody with no money and if it wasn’t the books she would have gone into property development in Manchester” This summed her own personality better than I could!”

“Did she write her book to show that it is possible, with enough determination, to transcend a deprived background, to do and become whatever you want? Is it the nature versus nurture debate? This book seems to me more of a personal indulgence, a cathartic experience to help herself go forward into her future”

“I do not know what her life is like now but I hope she is happy as well as successful.”

Previous Reviews can be seen HERE

We are happy for you to come to a Coffee Morning or one main Monthly Meeting and to attend one individual group (with the exception of groups that require pre-booking and ticket purchases) before deciding whether to join St Austell u3a.

Please always contact the Group Convenor to ensure the session is going ahead.