Friday, March 26, 2010


A Certain Smile, Francoise Sagan, E P Dutton and Company, 1956, 128 pp

In her follow-up to Bonjour Tristesse, 1955, Ms Sagan again made the bestseller list at #7 in 1956. The main character this time is a student at the Sorbonne who does the very French thing of having an affair with her boyfriend's uncle, a man much older than she is. Sagan's writing has improved and in fact reminded me of early novels by Simone De Beauvoir.

As the young woman goes through the steps and stages of an affair, which is pretty much the same story as any affair from a female point of view, Sagan does an evocative job of putting you into her head and heart. You feel what she feels and that is one of the few things I ask of good writing.

Another French touch is the older man's wife, who befriends the young woman as a method of containing her and recovering the husband from his philandering ways. In the 1958 movie, Joan Fontaine plays the wife while Johnny Mathis appears as himself singing the song, "A Certain Smile," while the two couples are out for the evening. The song was a much bigger hit than the movie. I used to know all the words.

(A Certain Smile is out of print, so you will have to try your local library or favorite used book seller.)

1 comment:

  1. The University of Chicago Press, where I work as promotions director, has just published a new edition of A Certain Smile, which should be showing up in bookstores any day now in the States.