As with The Idiot, I was inspired to read Le Grand Meaulnes by one of those Night Waves Landmark editions, not wanting to suffer the potential spoiling of the book by hearing the discussion first. Going against the current trend I joined the local library, just a few minutes’ walk away. Browsing around (I was also looking for Decline and Fall, which had been the subject of Melvyn Bragg‘s investigations too) I spotted a copy and was very pleased at this good fortune.
Some of the comments, including a dedication from Nick Hornby on the back cover, imply that, like The Catcher in the Rye and On The Road, you’re really supposed to read it during your adolescence. That’s not a state I’ve been able to claim for a very long time and I do wonder how seriously one should take such lamentatory admonitions. At any age, it’s a powerful evocation of the strength of obsessive love and the wonder of those who put up no resistance to such feelings, rather embracing them without restraint or scruple. It’s also an illuminating record of the intricate defined distinctions, rituals and loyalties of adolescents and how these attributes nevertheless swirl around disorientatingly. The adults are mostly peripheral, significant mainly in how they react to those in the throes of change.
Even at this remove I feel reading of Meaulnes an envy at my younger self, in some sense more alive than I am now, notwithstanding his ignorance and I suspect most will feel a similar pang.