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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Certain Smile

Françoise Sagan

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To purchase A Certain Smile

Title: A Certain Smile
Author: Françoise Sagan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1956 (Eng. 1956)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Certain Smile - US
A Certain Smile - UK
A Certain Smile - Canada
Un certain sourire - Canada
A Certain Smile - India
Un certain sourire - France
Ein gewisses Lächeln - Deutschland
Una cierta sonrisa - España
  • French title: Un certain sourire
  • Translated by Anne Green
  • With a Foreword by Diane Johnson
  • A Certain Smile was made into a film in 1958, directed by Jean Negulesco, and starring Joan Fontaine

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Our Assessment:

B : quite well done, but rather limited novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Hudson Review . Winter/1957 Daniel Aaron
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/8/1956 Elizabeth Janeway
Time . 20/8/1956 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Author Sagan's prose is as disciplined as her characters are not. Her style is spare, lucid and psychologically astute. Yet her novel is a petition in spiritual and emotional bankruptcy." - Time

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Certain Smile is narrated by free-spirited young law student Dominique. She has a boyfriend, Bertrand, and they romp around happily enough, even if she doesn't feel particularly passionately about him, rationalizing:

Trust, esteem and tenderness were not to be despised, and I thought very little about passion. The absence of genuine feeling seemed to me the most normal way to live.
       Bertrand foolishly introduces her to his married uncle, Luc -- and Dominique recognizes immediately what Bertrand has fatally overlooked:
He's just the kind that seduces little girls like me.
       The formulation is revealing: if Dominique behaves like an adult and acts very independently, she nevertheless recognizes that in matters of passion she's an immature child. And, indeed, despite recognizing what Luc is capable of, she falls for him hook, line, and sinker.
       Luc admits his devotion to his wife, but that doesn't mean he doesn't like to have some fun on the side -- and he easily convinces Dominique to go along with it. From the first, however, he also reminds her:
In this kind of thing nothing matters too much. I like you. I love you. We'll have fun together. Nothing more than fun.
       He promises the epitome of a casual affair -- and he reminds her later on again:
It's not very serious with you, either. Nothing is very serious.
       But, of course, the problem with passion is that one does take it rather seriously. Dominique repeatedly reminds herself of where this is going -- nowhere -- but the appeal of their life in the moment is enough for her to keep pushing the inevitable out of mind.
Shortly, we'll have dinner, then we'll sleep together, and in three days we'll say good-by. He'll probably never again be the way he is now. But this moment is here; it's ours. I don't know whether it's love or understanding, but that doesn't matter. We're alone, each one on his own.
       Of course, Dominique's solitariness is also shaped by her choices; men are readily available to her -- she has numerous encounters with the eager and willing -- and Bertrand certainly gave her enough opportunities to enjoy a more traditional, coupled happiness, but she prefers to remain flighty (making her moans about being: "Alone. Alone." feel rather rich). No doubt, part of the appeal -- at least initially, and presumably also subconsciously all along -- of an affair with Luc is that she knows it can not be lasting. At her age, perhaps not the worst of life-choices -- except, of course, that it gets to her, and that she does feel loss and regret.
       After a two-week-getaway with Luc which he refers to as a period of "cohabitation" Dominique blurts out:
     "This wasn't cohabitation," I protested laughingly. "It was a honeymoon."
       She may try to be lighthearted about it, but of course deep down this is what she wishes for -- that this was a beginning, rather than merely an episode. And the beginning of something domestic and traditional at that.
       "It was a simple story", Dominique sighs in closing, and A Certain Smile certainly is a simple story -- but, of course, affairs of this (and most every) sort are also infinitely complex. Sagan does a decent job of presenting this girl and her affair and how she thinks about it. Still, it is all a bit thin and juvenile -- but then so is Dominique (and so was author Sagan, at the time) -- and it reads just like what it is: the worldly-wise (i.e. not so ...) thoughts of a barely twenty-one year old girl whose romantic fantasies are at odds with her physical indulgences.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 February 2012

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A Certain Smile: Reviews: A Certain Smile - the film: Françoise Sagan: Other books by Françoise Sagan under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Françoise Sagan lived 1935 to 2004.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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