Salad Days / Le Chien Couchant

Wow, I’m terrible at updating this blog. I’ve been ridiculously busy for the past month, but alas it is time to write a review.

I thought I would get back to the works of Françoise Sagan. In the past, I have focused on her earlier novels, which dealt with young protagonists and first love and lust, etc. Now, I’ve been reading some of her later works and boy oh boy, what a difference.

Now, when I found Salad Days I assumed it would be a quirky soap opera. I mean, with a title like that it couldn’t be too serious, right? Wrong! The original title is Le Chien Couchant or The Setting Dog. The French title makes more sense and actually fits the novel. Salad Days…not so much. The novel was published in France in 1980 and wasn’t translated into English until 1984. Now, onto the story:

Gueret, an accountant at a local factory in his late twenties, hates his life. He has a boss he can’t stand, makes absolutely no money, and lives a life without respect. This drastically changes when he finds a bag filled with jewels in the middle of an alleyway. He takes the jewels and runs for it, only to realize that they were stolen by a man who killed a jeweler! SHOCKING! Not only is murder a factor in his discovery, his boardinghouse keeper, Madam Biron or Maria, sees him take the jewels and automatically assumes he killed the jeweler! Oh no! Things are looking pretty scandalous, right?

But there’s a twist! Maria is turned on by the idea of Gueret being a murder! Whaaat!? But things are a little more complicated than they seem. Gueret is in his late twenties and Maria is nearly fifty! So, age becomes a factor in their blossoming relationship, but this is quickly overcome. The two become lovers and plan their luxurious life together, however things cannot remain peachy forever. Gueret is not a murderer, in fact, he’s nothing but a simple man who wants nothing but a simple life. Maria, on the other hand, has a history of being a wild child. She used to hang out with gangsters and needs a man who lives on the wild side and  can / does command respect. So, it becomes apparent that Gueret is not the murder, hence her attraction goes down the hill along with their dreams of a bright future. Also, people are constantly judging the age difference between the couple.

Basically, the novel ends with Maria’s past life coming back to haunt her. The man she asked to sell the stolen jewels finds out that Gueret did not kill the jeweler so he decides to take all the money for himself, which leads to Gueret and the gangster to fight. Gueret gets stabbed in the stomach and the novel ends with Gueret begging Maria not to leave him while he is riding in the ambulance to the hospital. Sagan makes it abundantly clear that Gueret will not live and Maria is left alone on the street watching the ambulance drive away and the stray dog that Gueret adopted run after the screaming car.

So, pretty basic and not basic at all. I major qualms with this novel, it felt as if all the passion that Sagan used to have just evaporated and all that was left was this piece of work. I feel like the sitting dog, who is both Gueret and the stray dog he adopts, is literally the definition of this book. This book just sits there and begs to be read, but once you do, it does nothing to help itself. The story is sub-par at best and sometimes…very creepy due to the romantic relationship, which mostly has to do with Maria. Maria is an awful character. She’s bitter, she’s ugly, she’s old, and most of all, she’s creepy. She constantly calls Gueret her son out in public and treats him like a child. I get this weird, incestuous vibe, which personally, creeps me out.

Another thing to note, Sagan was thirty when she wrote this novel, and it appears as if she uses her personal age as inspiration for her female protagonists. Maria used to have a life full of passion, much like Sagan’s female protagonists when she was younger, however what is left is nothing to be impressed with. Yet, Gueret is absolutely obsessed with Maria. He needs her. This is made abundantly clear when he is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, Nicole, a young, pretty woman. He judges her youth and states, “What’s all this talk about being young? What’s so great about being young? What difference do you think it makes to me that you’re young? I don’t think that’s exciting. It’s only old people who find young flesh exciting. Didn’t you know that?” (65) How the tables turn once Sagan hits an older age. In her earlier novels she spoke ever so highly of youth and beauty, and now, it’s as if she is just as bitter as Maria. Strange, very strange indeed.

There is one instance of the Sagan passion I know so well and love, and that appears when Gueret and Maria are intimate for the first time. There is one flowery paragraph that is absolutely lovely and then just as suddenly as it appears (and I read with glee!) it disappears. The rest just drags on and becomes weirder and weirder. By the end, I didn’t even care that Gueret was shanked, I just wanted the damn novel to be over.

So, in conclusion: would I recommend this novel? I say, absolutely not. You’re not missing ANYTHING and I may be saving you from the horror that is Salad Days. My advice? Stick with Sagan’s earlier works, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh Sagan, it was fun while it lasted.

Why Sagan, why?

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