Le Grand Meaulnes is one of the great classics of French literature, a mysterious, even impressionistic tale of adolescence in the French countryside in the dying years of the 19th century.
A teenager, Agustin Meaulnes, arrives in a country school, and his strong personality immediately affects its rural atmosphere, especially in the eyes of his younger school companion, the 15 year old François. He is dubbed 'le grand Meaulnes', and he lives up to his reputation by going missing for a few days. He says little about his adventure on his return. But François eventually discovers that Meaulnes stumbled upon a strange party held at an unknown chateau, and became enmeshed in the lives of the beautiful young Yvonne de Galais and her brother Frantz.
Love, confusion, the urgency of young passion propels these three along unpredictable paths, observed anxiously by François, who desperately wants to help solve and resolve the mysteries. But Meaulnes and Frantz are driven by their own emotions along a trajectory which is anything but simple and straight.
Le Grand Meaulnes, regarded by John Fowles as 'the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature' has cast a remarkable spell on successive many generations.
In turn elliptical, impressionist, hopeful, haunting, Le Grand Meaulnes made an immediate impression on the French public when it was first published in 1913 (a year before its author died in the First World War) and swiftly gained a permanent place in European literature. The translation by Françoise Delisle has been revised for this recording.
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Painter, musician, bibliophile...
There are readers and there are re-readers. I admire those who read only once and move onto something new; surely they have an exciting literary life. But I am a re-reader, and I like to re-read in several languages at times. That is the case here. This is my first reading of Alain-Fournier in English, and I enjoyed every single word.
What an enchanting book this is. It is hard not to evoke Proust when thinking of the first part of the book, the author's close observation of character and detail, and his deep self-knowledge and vulnerability. But our author is no imitator of Proust, but an original and imaginative writer in his own right.
I love the protagonist who is somewhat shy and ostracized from his fellows due to a hip problem that causes him to hop and leads his family toward an overly protective attitude. But when Meaulnes comes to board at the school, the young man opens the door to new worlds of friendship, magic, imagination, dreams, and beauty.
As is well-known, the story centers upon a single event which takes place during the Christmas season. Meaulnes disappears and has an unusual experience when he finds "he had dropped into the most peaceful happiness on earth." As our protagonist says, "It remained for a long time the great secret of our youth. But today when all is ended, and there remains only dust of so much good and so much evil, I can relate his strange adventure."
The narrator was perfectly suited to the story. I couldn't have asked for better.
The experience was all the more bittersweet and nostalgic because the book left me wanting more. But there is no more. Alain-Fournier was one of many who died for the great lies of the Great War. That knowledge leaves me with the same longing for more that I feel when I look at paintings from Macke or Marc, who also fell in the war. Still I am thankful for them, as I am for Alain-Fournier, for all they gave us during their brief stay. May they rest in peace.
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