Françoise Sagan, 1954, 1956 [Heather Lloyd, 2013]
Oh so very Gallic. Gamine young women; passionate affairs with older men; existential ennui: it couldn't be more French if it created continent-wide wide travel chaos through aggressive industrial work-stoppages whilst eating a wheel of cheese and listlessly smoking a Gauloises inside a Gitanes.
The thought did occur, however, that the story itself is pretty traditional: it's basically a Wicked Step Mother fairy-tale, with the twist being that the step-daughter is no angel herself. Not wicked, but a pleasingly complex and confused character, so much so that the plot itself, so much as it is, feels like an afterthought. There's an interesting comparison to be made here with Boy, Snow, Bird, which I'd make more of if I had the time or inclination. Some other day, perhaps.
A Certain Smile, the second story here, is even more plotless. A university student has an affair with her boyfriend's uncle. That's about it. Once more the focus is on the endless task of unpicking the tangled knot of human emotions, this time as attempted by a narrator trying but increasingly failing to maintain her façade of cynical detachment. It's stylistically smoother than the earlier work (which is probably to be expected) and also in places genuinely laugh-out-loud funny (which definitely wasn't):
His wife and Bertrand's mother laughed in a knowing way. Luc was yawning. Bertrand was working up a speech that wouldn't get a hearing. With her usual good humour, Francoise was visibly trying to understand why these people were so boring.
If I ever manage to produce a line half as good as that that—a line that so perfectly balances patronizing generosity, fragile immaturity, and petulant cynicism—I shall consider all the hundreds of thousands of words of guff I've ever produced to have been an entirely worthwhile endeavour.