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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

Longing and Obsession

The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (Penguin Classics) - Henri Alain-Fournier, Adam Gopnik, Robin Buss

In Robert Gibson's biography of author Alain-Fournier, "The End of Youth", he tells us that in 1905 18 year old Alain-Fournier was leaving an art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris when he saw a young woman walking with an older lady.  Smitten by the young woman, he followed the pair to a Left Bank apartment, and over the next ten days he often loitered nearby, until she finally agreed to stroll with him by the Seine.  He was clearly besotted. She told him she was leaving Paris the next day.  She did, and they never saw each other again.  She became his absent muse, the obsession he could not release.  


And what does a writer do with such an obsession?  Write a novel, of course.  In THE LOST ESTATE, which mixes fantasy with autobiography, the author gives us Meaulnes, a handsome, daring and charismatic young man who arrives at the local school in Sologne and charms everyone.  However, he then disappears for several days and returns telling tales of a mysterious house, a strange party and a beautiful girl. Like his creator, Meulnes become obsessed and in the relentless search to recover what he lost, he risks not only his own happiness but that of everyone around him, including his faithful friend, the narrator Francois.  


Alain-Fournier explores loss and compulsion, as well as the passions of adolescence and the consequences of such passion.  This is one of France's most famous novels, and has been revered by American novelists such as Keroauc, Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald (who may well have modeled The Great Gatsby and it's narrator, Nick Carroway on Allain-Fournier's work), Rose Tremain, and David Mictchell.  John Fowles claimed it informed everything he wrote.  One can see why.  It is slightly dream-like, a puzzle-box of twists and plot revelations, and the mists of sorrow and longing hang over every page.  


The Lost Estate is one of those books aficionados fear may one day soon pass into obscurity, as it seems to be read by fewer and fewer.  What a great pity that would be, for I can think of no other novel that so beautifully captures the sense of lost innocence and inconsolable loss, while also inspiring so many other great works.