Every once in a while, there are those books that become favourites amongst Instagram users. It was the case with Sally Rooney’s 2018 bestseller Normal People. Everyone’s feeds were awash with flat-lays in which the novel’s cover, with its distinctive illustration of two lovers entwined in a sardine can, featured. Also in 2018 was Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love which was read, assuming its omnipresence on Instagram amounted to sales, by everyone and anyone. Though it is certainly not always the bestsellers that prevail; amongst certain crowds lesser-known novels that have garnered a cult classic status have their moment in the spotlight as everyone seems to be reading and featuring the book on their profile at the same time.
In my case, this time a couple of years ago, I couldn’t stop seeing Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. It was not only the French style bloggers that were flaunting the book, in shots of it sat atop cafe tables, next to coffees on Paris boulevards. It seemed to be a favourite among the more ‘studenty types’ on my following list. Everyone appeared to be bringing it along with them on holiday. I cannot tell you how many photos I saw in which copies of it lay, half-open, sprawled across sun-drenched legs poolside in various European villas. It was as if the mystical inner workings of social media’s algorithms were demanding I read it too. I soon stumbled across a second-hand copy in a tiny bookshop while on a far less exotic family holiday by the English coast. I began to read in earnest, but however hard I tried, I failed to become enraptured in the way those I followed on Instagram seemingly were. As the summer ended, my copy was banished back to the shelf, unfinished.
I returned to Bonjour Tristesse recently after spotting it once more being read by someone I follow on Instagram. This time, the dizzying heat of the French Riviera setting, and the precocious narration of Cecile as she guides us through her summer spent snogging, scheming and sunbathing, felt like such an irresistible read. Sagan writes so deliciously – the French Riviera shimmers in the background as Cecile grapples with the suffocating presence of her father’s new woman and its disruption to the dynamic of their relationship. Perhaps it was the promise of something escapist – Cecile’s problems being so far removed, and seeming so trivial in comparison to the pandemic as the source of everyone else’s problems in the real world – that proved so utterly enchanting on this occasion. Stories need to be read in the right place at the right time, and now is the right time for something so delicious, so tantalising, so stylish, as Bonjour Tristesse.