Translated from the French by Robin Buss
Le Grand Meaulnes was first published in 1913 and is one of the most well known, and most loved classics in France today. It is, essentially, a fairy tale; the main character, Meaulnes, finds a mysterious house, with a beautiful girl hidden within it, but when he tries to return to the house, he cannot find it. For the rest of the book Meaulnes tries to discover what happened to him during his visit to the ‘Lost Estate’.
I read this book for Cornflower’s book group and I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed by it.
My Penguin classic copy of the book has a note on the translation which I think sums up some of my frustration:
“…the typical Fournier sentence, with its subordinate clauses separated by commas, giving a nervous feel to the writing..”
I’m not sure “nervous” is the right word, I found it annoying! The writing just didn’t flow very well. I don’t know enough about the French language to know if this is a more natural way of writing things in French, but I found it very off putting.
It has been described by many as a book which is “untranslatable” and for many reasons I feel this is probably the case. Translation from French to English loses the subtle double meanings for many of the words. The most obvious being the ‘grand’ of the title which can mean, big, tall, great, daring, noble….etc.
I thought the quality of the writing was also very patchy. Some scenes were quite good, but others seemed to have been thrown in randomly and didn’t seem very well thought out.
Overall, I got little pleasure from reading this book. I think it is probably best read in French, preferably at a young age. Some of the other members of the book group really enjoyed this book. If you have a vast knowledge of French culture, and enjoy reading individual dream like sequences then this may be a book for you, but I didn’t enjoy it.