April 15, 2012

BEATS THE TAR OUT OF PROUST:

Le Grand Meaulnes revisited: Julian Barnes feared that in rereading Alain-Fournier's great novel, in his 60s, its youthful enchantment might be lost. Instead, he was captivated once more (Julian Barnes, 13 April 2012, Guardian)

There is no doubting the classic status of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. A poll of French readers a dozen years ago placed it sixth of all 20th-century books, just behind Proust and Camus. Most French people read it at school; yet very few of them (according to my own private poll) ever reread it. This may stem from an understandable reluctance to revisit set texts; but more, perhaps, from a fear that the novel's magic might not work a second time around - as if, in adulthood, we know too much to fall under the its spell again. Yet this would be a mistake. What John Fowles called "the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature" can only ever be partly grasped by adolescents, because they don't yet know exactly what it is they are going to lose by growing up.

The British generally come to the book later than the French. I first read it even later than most - towards the end of my 30s. For a long time I'd been put off by the title (as I had with The Catcher in the Rye), by a paperback cover featuring a cute chunk of French chateau peeping out from idyllic woodland, and by the blurb, which would announce the story of a boy finding a mysteriously beautiful house then losing it, and finding a mysteriously beautiful girl then losing her. I imagined a sentimental tale of rural life, and wrongly assumed I was too old for all that stuff. More likely, I was still too young for it.




It's unforgettable.
Posted by at April 15, 2012 7:18 AM
  

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