“Le Grand Meaulnes”

Elsewhere I have observed how – to my palette at least – some books have not aged well in terms of their writing style. In the case of Alain-Fournier’s “Le Grand Meaulnes” I find a novel that has not travelled well both in terms of style and plot. Indeed, I was most struck by how the plot – contrived and simply unbelievable in places – lacked credibility, at least to a more modern sensibility.

Perhaps in 1912, when the novel was published (and two years before its author was killed in action in WW1), its almost slight, fairy-tale type nature would have been more appealing. And I daresay not only are some of the subtleties of the language inevitably lost in the translation, but any particularly French sensibilities addressed by the work would most likely also be missed by a ‘non-native’ reader. But even the author my edition’s introduction, Adam Gopnik, variously describes it as “simple”, “improbable”, “peculiar”, “stilted and sentimental” – but of course I cherry-pick his comments to suit my argument.

Far greater minds than my own would be able to justify its place in the Penguin Classics pantheon, but having read it, I confess to being surprised that it is there.