Le Grand Meaulnes
Alain-Fournier, translated by Frank Davison
Le Grand Meaulnes is a romantic coming-of-age tale, a story of friendship, love, and loss. When Augustin Meaulnes arrives at a small French school, he is befriended by François Seurel, the 15-year-old son of the headmaster. François looks up to Meaulnes, who is two years older and both a dreamer and a rebel. The boys nickname him "Le Grande Meaulnes" which the translator explains is similar to the English phrase, "good old Meaulnes." One day, in an act of bravado, Meaulnes gets hold of a carriage, heads off on his own, gets lost, and ultimately finds himself at a very strange wedding feast. There he encounters the most beautiful woman he's ever seen: Yvonne de Galais. The feast breaks up rather abruptly when the groom's fiancee decides not to go through with the wedding. In the confusion, Meaulnes is separated from Yvonne, and he vows to find her again. He embarks on a quest of sorts, leaving François behind to finish his studies. The search for Yvonne takes a circuitous path involving François, a number of other colorful characters, and unexpected connections with the groom from the wedding feast.
Le Grand Meaulnes was Alain-Fournier's first novel. Sadly, he was killed in World War I in 1914, just two years after publication. His writing is beautiful; I was instantly transported back to 1890s rural France, where women dried their linen by draping it over the bushes, and men engaged in vigorous debate in the local cafe. The weather and scenery were described in vivid detail, further immersing me in the world of François and his friend Meaulnes:
And now, to swoop down from a hill-top into the hollows as if on wings; to see a blurred landscape far ahead divide and make an aisle for you and burst into leaf as you passed; to slip through a village taking everything in at a glance ... Only in dreams had I been wafted on such delightful flights. (p. 139)
While there were parts of this book I found a bit bizarre, and others that were slow-moving, overall the writing was so wonderful that I enjoyed it a great deal. ( )