The used bookstore was nearby. A work friend and I had just finished Sunday brunch, and the basement store, that warren of narrow aisles lined with books that had already spent time in other people’s homes, exercised its customary lure. I had no precise title in mind, and I was ready to be surprised on this midday visit.
Truth be told, it had been a while since I had even thought to include a stop by the French language shelves. I had made analogous online crawls at different times in search of a particular softcover edition of Aimez-vous Brahms… by Françoise Sagan. I had loaned my original copy to… I don’t remember who. A purchase made in a Montreal discount bookstore provided me with a later Livre de Poche edition; the text of spare French prose was intact (intégral in the phrasing on the cover), the font identical to that in the earlier edition, but the cover featured a photograph of a heavy-lidded woman’s face reflected in her make-up mirror.
I don’t know when – or exactly why – I began to crave a replacement copy of the slim French paperback with the vase of flowers on the cover – the cover I associate with my first readings of the novel. How proud I had been to negotiate my way through a French novel in its entirety, a book not assigned for a course but chosen for sheer pleasure! A heady experience for someone in his twenties and a French major in his back pocket.
The edition with that cover is no longer in print. But there it was this Sunday afternoon. Three dollars later, and it was mine. Again.
I make no exaggerated literary claims for Françoise Sagan. My first reading of that novel followed a television showing in the late 70s of the movie Goodbye Again. A friend watching the movie with me yelped and waved his tall glass of tea and crushed ice when the forty-year-old character played by Ingrid Bergman calls after the twenty-five-year-old lover she has just dumped and shouts, “I’m old!” For two gay men approaching thirty, her admission had the ring of high camp. My friend would begin that night to include her words in his repertory of lines to be invoked against a background of disco recordings as he showered each Saturday night before heading to the bars.
If the novel retains some compelling message for me from reading to reading, it is contained in the title. The character Paule, a successful career woman in Paris, has been invited by the younger Simon (Philip in the American movie) to a Sunday concert of Brahms; he prefaces his invitation with the question “Do you like Brahms?” She later remarks to the older man named Roger with whom she has maintained a steady but unfulfilling relationship that she was startled by the question, that she had actually forgotten whether she liked Brahms or not, that it had been so long since anyone had asked her what she liked. Roger appears not to understand why Paule might respond so earnestly to the question nor why she would think to recount her reaction to it. His apparent indifference confirms Paule in her decision to let Simon more significantly into her life.
Let me simply go on the record right now and say that I do indeed like Brahms. Were someone to ask me why some day, I will answer the question earnestly – and hopefully.