Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 8, 2021

Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan

I still don’t have enough strength in the wrist I broke to hold a hose in one of those commercial carwash places, so I had a long wait at the place where they washed the car for me.  And that was just enough time — at last! to finish my reading of Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan.  (I started it in August.) I like having the books I’m reading in French in my handbag because it means I have to do without a dictionary, but during lockdown there haven’t been too many opportunities to take the handbag out of the house and read the book.

An added bonus was that I finished it in time for #NovNov (Novellas in November).

Françoise Sagan (1935–2004) was a French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter.  Her reputation (according to Wikipedia) rests on stories with strong romantic themes involving wealthy and disillusioned bourgeois characters.  She was a prolific writer, with 21 novels listed at WP, three short story collections, a swag of plays, a ballet and rather a lot of autobiographical works.   Many of her novels were made into films, including the well-known Bonjour Tristesse – which was published when she was still a teenager in 1954.  Aimez-vous Brahms? (1959) was also made into a film Goodbye Again, starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins, and directed by Anatole Litvak in 1961.

Aimez-vous Brahms is an angst-ridden romance which is not really the kind of book I enjoy, but I can see its merits.  Paule is (at 39!) is feeling old.  She’s a divorced interior designer, living a modest life in Paris and trying to choose between the two men in her life.  Roger has been around for a while, and she likes him, but he’s not committed to the relationship and has a penchant for women younger than Paule, including one called Maisy (which maybe sounds sexier when pronounced with a French accent).

Just when Paule’s frustrations with Roger are getting her down, Simon comes into her life.  He’s only 24 and of course he’s gorgeous.  Not only that, while she is dubious because of the age difference between them, he is besotted with her and is determined to make her love him.  For her, Simon represents risk: if she gives up the security of her relationship with Roger, Simon might tire of her as she ages and then she will be alone.  She’s also wary of the gossip such an age difference might generate.  OTOH Simon is good fun, he’s very attentive and they have a marvellous time together (and not just in bed).   There are however, his messy habits to contend with and after many years of solo living, she is not best pleased by his carelessness in her apartment, not to mention the pong from his Gauloises.

(And here we are half a century later, onto yet another wave of feminism, and some young men still don’t understand that shared housework is a game-changer in relationships!)

Well of course, there is a good deal of pondering over this dilemma, livened up by Simon’s mother inviting both men to the same dinner party.  Does Paule like Brahms?  (Brahms is romantic, but not passionate, not like Beethoven).  Paule has to sort out exactly what she does like and what she wants out of life.  Sagan, in her mid-twenties when she wrote this, and perhaps not a reader of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), seems to have thought that a woman’s options were limited by the age of 40, and that being alone was, for a woman, a fate worse than death.  The last lines feature Paule wailing that she is old.  Oh dear…

Still, the story is skilfully written and artfully engaging, and even with the limitations of my French, I can see that the writing is beautiful.

Author: Françoise Sagan
Title: Aimez-vous Brahms? (Do you like Brahms?)
Publisher: Juillard Pocket Editions, 2013, first published 1959
ISBN: 9782266192262, pbk., 124 pages
Source: personal library, purchased from Language International, Melbourne, $15.95


Responses

  1. Hi Lisa,

    I was recommending my publisher to send a copy of my book to you but we can’t find your postal address nor can we find your email address to contact you.

    Can you email me please: [LH edit: email address deleted]

    Best,

    Ouyang Yu

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  2. Oh yes! I read this ever so long ago. I had just about forgotten the plot. Thank you for reminding me. I love the idea of your carrying a book and no dictionary in your bag, Lisa.

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    • It forces me to read for the gist, rather than slavishly checking out every word. Otherwise I’d never finish the book.
      Of course it does mean that sometimes I miss some meaning in it…

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  3. I’m most impressed you can read French!

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    • Slowly! I started this one in August!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, it would be quicker than me! I don’t know any French at all.

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        • Did you learn any language/s at school?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nope. We could learn French but it was not compulsory and 15 year old me could never see the possibility of ever going abroad to use it 😆 I did art instead.

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            • I bet that was more fun!

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              • It was. But not sure it was as useful in my adult life as a different language might have been 🤷🏻‍♀️

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                • Ah well, it’s never too late to start!

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                • There are Noongar language classes in Freo but unfortunately they are mid-afternoon. Like most classes I’d like to take, they’re designed for people (ie mums and retirees) who have time on their hands during the week. Doesn’t seem to be anything on weekends/evenings.

                  Like

                • That would be great to do…

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  4. The film is rather lovely, I seem to remember. I know what you mean by 40 not being old and women not having to be with a man to be happy, but I have seen friends who divorced in their mid 40s and struggled with similar problems, so I thought it was quite perceptive.

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    • Well, my Ex shot through when I was about 40, and while I had no intention of looking for a replacement, I certainly did not think my life was over or that I was old!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only read two Sagan’s but enjoyed them both. Will keep an eye out for this one.

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    • I’ve heard so much about her but never read anything of hers, so it was good to do so at last!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Aimez-vous Brahms? by Francoise Sagan (Lisa at ANZ Lit Lovers) […]

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  7. […] Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler (reviewed by Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write) Aimez-vous Brahms? by Françoise Sagan (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ […]

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  8. LOL, I have read some Sagan, and enjoyed some of it, but she has a particular focus and I’m not sure that’s aged well. And the thing about women being ‘old’ at 40 is certainly something which features in a lot of novels from the past. At my advanced age I would certainly dispute that… ;D

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    • Well, of course it was ‘old’ in the 19th century because life expectancy was much lower. But mid C20th was a different thing altogether!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really like Sagan, she’s a beautiful writer even if we have very different viewpoints – this would be a prime example! I’ve not read it but I’ll expect to enjoy it, even if I view being over 40 very differently :-D

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  10. My memory of reading (i.e. trying to read) Sagan in French is connected to a collection of short stories in which one of the tales was all about a “hunt”; it was my first realization that certain themes would be even more challenging in translation. Hah.

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    • Oh yes, I read something by George Sand a while ago which was all about a farmer … and the vocab for furrows and ploughs and whatnot was endlessly difficult!

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