He came to our place one Sunday in November 189-. I still say ‘our place’, even though the house no longer belongs to us. It will soon be fifteen years since we left the neighborhood, and we shall certainly never go back.
I was really looking forward to this one and…I was disappointed. It was almost boring, but not quite. There was something of the French charm and “fantasie” about it. Hold on. Let me backtrack. What is Le Grand Meaulnes about? Well, it’s about this boy named Auguste Meaulnes who arrives at the small village of Sologne, and captivates everyone. But he vanishes for a few days and comes back with stories of a strange party in a mysterious house and a beautiful girl that met there. “….Meaulnes has been changed forever. In his restless search for his Lost Estate and the happiness he found there, Meaulnes, observed by his loyal friend Francois, may risk losing everything he ever had. poised between youthful admiration and adult resignation, Alain-Fournier’s compelling narrator carries the reader through this evocative and often unbearably moving portrayal of desperate friendship and vanished adolescence.” Interesting sounding story, right? Penguin Classics translates (or rather, calls it) The Lost Estate (which is obviously not a literal translation of the original French title.) I did not find myself caring about the characters that much though, so it wasn’t “deeply moving” at all. Some of the descriptions were vaguely interesting, but I didn’t find it such a great book.
Also, from Alain-Fournier’s description of the “lost estate”, it doesn’t sound so wonderful. I mean, if I was Meaulnes, I would want to find out more about the mysterious house, but “the happiness he found there?” To me (from the description of it), the house just sounded like a nice place where Meaulnes spent a few nights. To be sure, there is an air of the mysterious about it, but why should it have the potential to ruin his life? How can he have fallen in love with the girl after talking to her once?
In the end, I guess I just didn’t find Le Grand Meaulnes that compelling. I understand that Meaulnes is in that state between childhood and adulthood…but really, who cares? Not me. I don’t mean to say that I hated this one, just that it was missing something (for me.) I will admit though, that the second part of the book was much, much better than the first. I actually enjoyed the last fifty pages or so. Le Grand Meaulnes is an essential part of French literature though, and I’m glad that I had the experience of reading it.
Read Le Grand Meaulnes:
- if you like French twentieth century literature
- if you like “magic realism”
223 pages, 3.5 stars.