English writer, comedian, and journalist Groskop mixes literary history and memoir to explore how the classics of French literature can infuse our lives with joie de vivre and teach us how to say goodbye to sadness.
Groskop has continually surprising reflections, having steeped herself, in the meantime, in a dozen authors’ biographies. She isn’t trying to unearth new gems or evangelize for the overlooked; this is a star show about books and writers so famous that Groskop can compare them to celebrated films ... I’m damned if I’ve met three recreational readers as astute and amusing as she is about everyone from Flaubert to Françoise Sagan. She knows she’s funny telling stories of her own follies and pretensions and of her girlhood ambitions to master French while growing up in Somerset, England ... Reading Groskop, we lose our academic pretensions and realize our love for literature—that is, for books that measure themselves against life rather than against the latest grad-school fad ... Groskop is the best book buddy I’ve never met.
... offers the reader a handy shortcut through the hard graft of learning these lessons for oneself ... Part-memoir, part-cultural analysis, Au Revoir, Tristesse is composed of 12 short chapters, each framed by a pithy, witty epithet that summarises the thrust of Groskop’s central thesis: that books play an important role in helping us to navigate the emerging narratives of our own lives ... Her readings are biographically as well as textually informed, and she never passes up the opportunity to use titillating titbits of historical lore to animate her argument ... the best parts of Au Revoir, Tristesse are when Groskop describes the changing nature of her relationship with France and the books that had such a crucial part in her self-definition ... Groskop's re-evaluation of her own relationship to the books says something urgent about literature’s ability to challenge us as well as 'escape ourselves and find a better way to live'. It is also a great argument for rereading, a neglected indulgence in these nouvelle-worshipping, time-poor days ... The personal story that Groskop presents as a backdrop to this cultural exploration is not, however, in any way, exceptional. It offers simple, universal truths that even those illiterate in the French language will relate to.
... witty and informative ... When Ms. Groskop wrote a weekly commentary for the Guardian on the Poldark television series, her columns were more entertaining than their subject. Here, too, she steals the show from her ostensible subject, using ironic autobiography and solid scholarship to guide us into the steamy territory of modern French letters ... a vividly personal Gallic gallimaufry ... The richness of French literature means that some heavy hitters are missing. It might be unfortunate that we meet Gustave Flaubert but not Jules Verne, and Victor Hugo but not Émile Zola ... Ms. Groskop always goes for the joke, but Au Revoir, Tristesse abounds in fascinating details that reflect deep learning and real enthusiasm ... Ms. Groskop is a skilled raconteuse who brings people—and the page—to life. She writes with a self-deprecating appreciation of the Frenchman or -woman manqué(e) that lurks in us all. You don’t have to be a savant to enjoy this book, though a little schoolroom French will go a long way. And Au Revoir, Tristesse will make a witty, seductive companion should you find yourself unaccountably alone between 4 and 6 in the afternoon.