Author: Francoise Sagan
Finished on: 2 July 2016
Where did I get this book: Hay-on-Wye. I can picture the room in the bookshop, full of orange Penguin classics, but I can’t remember its name.
Now this is what I’m talking about. I’ve had this book for years. An impulse purchase on one of my many joyous visits to Hay-on-Wye, where I buy far too many books that then sit on my shelves for years. This is one of the books this blog was started for.
It’s a shame it’s a bit of a disappointment.
I bought this book because I had read, and enjoyed, Sagan’s famous literary debut Bonjour Tristesse. I love her writing. It is simple, poetic and beautiful. I would be interested to read her in French, were my skills even remotely up to it, as the deceptively straightforward quality of her writing does remind me of when you accidentally have a profoundly meaningful conversation in a foreign language precisely because nuance is so hard in a language you don’t know like a mother tongue. Knowing only relatively simple language has the effect of requiring you to cut to the chase pretty sharpish.
Sagan’s language is just as beautiful in Those Without Shadows.
Summer had descended very suddenly on Paris. To those who had been following the subterranean course of their own passions or inclinations, the hot June sunshine arrived as a shock.
But the main difference between these two Sagan books is the quality of the plot. Or the presence of a plot. Bonjour Tristesse is a brilliant story. And the truth is that Those Without Shadows doesn’t really have one.
We follow a group of Parisian friends as they sleep with each other, think about sleeping with each other, and talk about sleeping with each other. Whilst the atmosphere is seductive and it is a deliciously easy read, ultimately this is a book where nothing really happens and everything is pointless; a kind of charming version of Catch 22. All of the characters are suffering from ennui or downright depression. You certainly wouldn’t want to spend any longer in their company.
Nobody has any conviction, and even their passions for each other seem adopted out of boredom and a sense that there’s nothing else to do. The characters find themselves doing things they didn’t intend, or want, to do. The feeling of detachment is summed up nicely when, at a crucial moment which could send her life in a number of different directions, one of our protagonists looks at her own reflection.
In her dressing room Beatrice was looking into the mirror at the stranger in a brocade dress who was going to decide her fate.
Books where nothing happens are not my cup of tea. But this is about as beautiful a written one as you could hope to find.