You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

Alain-Fournier’s masterpiece, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes‘, is a lyrical, melancholic ‘coming of age’ novel, which explores the crossing of the Rubicon between childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. Like J.D Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye‘, it is usually read by those for whom this rite of passage is still fresh in the memory, and I did wonder whether the cynicism I’ve accrued over the years would jaundice my reading of it. Not a bit of it!

The whole story is steeped in loss – loss of innocence, loss of love, loss of hope, – yet it is written with such charm and beauty that it evokes ‘a sweet sorrow’ that remains with you long after the last page is turned.

I’d say that if anything, this maudlin gem is wasted on the young, who haven’t yet lost or under-achieved enough to build up the kind of meaningful regret that the book demands. You’d get far more bang for your buck giving this to someone who has embarked upon a mid-life crisis. Already in the grip of regret, ruing the loss of youth/waistline/hair and weeping over shattered dreams, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes‘ will elevate that suffering to a hauntingly beautiful melancholy worthy of tears. After all, if one’s going to disintegrate, why not do it in style?

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