It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier and my memory of it is fading fast. I prefer to write down my thoughts soon after finishing a book but other books took precedence and as I didn’t take any notes whilst reading it these are just brief notes of my impressions.
I thought the first part of this book was better than the rest of it. It begins in France in the 1890s with the arrival of Augustin Meaulnes at Monsieur Seural’s secondary school at Sainte Agathe. He is quickly popular and called ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ by the other boys. He and the schoolmaster’s son Francois a shy, younger boy become friends. Augustin on an impluse goes to meet another boy’s parents and gets lost on the way. He stumbles across a chateau where preparations are being made for a celebration of the marriage of a young couple. This has an almost fairy-tale feel to it especially as Augustin falls in love with the beautiful Yvonne, the daughter of the family – a bit like Cinderella in reverse.
The celebrations are broken up with the news that the wedding is not going to happen and everyone departs, including Augustin. He has no idea where to find the estate, the ‘lost domain’ as he is given a lift back to Sainte Agathe. The rest of the book is about his search to find the chateau and Yvonne, which became increasingly implausible and by the end I had lost interest, although there were parts that I found poetical and richly descriptive. I didn’t really mind what happened to the characters and was glad when I finished reading the book. But other people enjoyed it more than I did – see the discussion at Cornflower’s Book Group.