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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lost Estate
(Le Grand Meaulnes)


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To purchase The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes)

Title: The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes)
Author: Alain-Fournier
Genre: Novel
Written: 1913 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) - US
The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) - UK
The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) - Canada
Le Grand Meaulnes - Canada
Le Grand Meaulnes - France
Der große Meaulnes - Deutschland
Il grande Meaulnes - Italia
El gran Meaulnes - España
  • French title: Le Grand Meaulnes
  • Translated by Robin Buss
  • With an Introduction by Adam Gopnik
  • Previously translated by Frank Davison (as Le Grand Meaulnes, 1959) and Lowell Blair (as The Wanderer, or the End of Youth, 1971)

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Our Assessment:

A- : strange but effective tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian* . 16/8/2003 Tobias Hill
The Independent . 18/5/2007 Boyd Tonkin
The Telegraph . 12/10/2013 Allan Massie
TLS . 21-8/12/2007 David Coward

*: refers to a previous translation

  From the Reviews:
  • "Some books succeed by word of mouth; Le Grand Meaulnes survives by even less than that, a barely audible system of Chinese whispers.But it remains a book that writers turn to; perhaps as much as any modern novel, it has a style which has echoed through the works of others. Despite the confusion of its titles and its dog-eared thinness and its faults, this is arguably one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. (...) Le Grand Meaulnes is written in exactly this adolescent spirit, but wholeheartedly, with an honesty and lack of cynicism that would not have been possible 20 years after Fournier's death, let alone today." - Tobias Hill, The Guardian

  • "(T)his dream-like tale of a lost love and a magical domain has a seductive new translation" - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "It is thoroughly and engagingly French, but it also belongs to its period, and the atmosphere is that of our Edwardian afternoon before the guns sounded. (...) It is a book of the twilight, one in which however joyful the mood may often be, we sense that darkness will soon fall." - Allan Massie, The Telegraph

  • "A bald summary makes Alain-Fournier's part-autobiographical, part fairy-tale narrative seem melodramatic and sentimental. (...) Fournier's novel is both a celebration and an elegy, a vivid evocation of the years of innocence and wonder which are routinely annihilated, save in memory and the imagination, by life's spoiling power." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In his 'A Note on the Translation' Robin Buss notes that: "There are, in fact, more titles of this book in English than there are translations of it", and getting the title right does prove to be a problem: the French original seems the easiest and obvious choice, but that hard-to-pronounce name (and the French words) may seem confusing and off-putting to some potential book-buyers. For this new Penguin Classics translation Buss chose 'The Lost Estate', with its appropriate double-meaning (this is a book about lost youth, after all, as well as a hard-to-find house and property) -- but, just to make sure, the publishers did add the one it is best known under, Le Grand Meaulnes, in parentheses right along with it.
       'Grand Meaulnes' is what Augustin Meaulnes is known as, and here, too, the double meaning (French and English) works quite well -- better , at any rate, than something like 'Big Meaulnes' would.
       The story is narrated by François Seurel, the son of the local schoolmaster, and fifteen when he first meets the 'Great Meaulnes'. François had been "timid and withdrawn", held back by a bum hip that prevented him from being like all the other boys. Conveniently:

     The arrival of Augustin Meaulnes, coinciding with my being cured of the disability, was the start of a new life.
       Very soon after his arrival Meaulnes embarks on what is meant to be a little adventure, but he disappears for several days. At first he doesn't want to reveal what happened to anyone, but finally he tells his story to François. It's an incredible, bizarre story, like a strange dream.
       Meaulnes found himself in a place that already then seemed like "a long-since abandoned house". He eventually learned that the son of the house, Frantz de Galais, was bringing his fiancée there for their wedding. Frantz invited many children, and left them in charge of much of the celebration -- making for a fantastical, flighty scene, a world turned upside down and hard to make much sense of. Meaulnes' sense that "everything happened as though in a dream" is perfectly understandable.
       Meaulnes' falls in love with Frantz's sister, Yvonne, but the festivities collapse around them: there is no wedding, and soon everyone is going away, and as for Meaulnes:
He was in a hurry to leave. Deep inside him, he was worried that he might find himself alone on the estate and his deception be revealed.
       He escapes this childish paradise -- like a dreamer who wakes -- but, of course, remains haunted by it. He must find it -- and Yvonne -- again, and he plans to try to seek it out with his one ally, François.
       It is childhood they are mourning, of course, and something they cannot escape or let go. "But can one return to the past ?" is the question that weighs too heavily on their present as they grow up -- "'Who knows ?' said Meaulnes, thoughtfully", still wondering, still considering the possibilities, unwilling to simply move on.
       The novel has its fair share of melodrama, especially in how their adult lives unfold -- though Alain-Fournier's willingness to allow for fairy-tale romance to be found (and, more importantly, then crushed) makes for a neat twist on the usual story-arc of such tales. Yes, François can moan:
     Weeks and months went by. Time past ! Lost happiness ! She had been the fairy, the princess and the mysterious love of all our adolescence
       But it's not a real romance -- the romance is almost all in the abstraction, and when the lovers find each other (or when François tries to pick up the pieces) it can hardly compete with the one in their imaginations. More than that, of course, adulthood and adult domesticity are a far cry from the freedom and strange innocence of youth -- which is something that François and Meaulnes each miss (albeit in different ways).
       It's the mix of nostalgia, romance, boyhood battlefields and classroom scenes, and a childish kind of vision that make The Lost Estate such an effective fiction. Both in summary and in many of its details it is surprisingly crude and clumsy -- but there's also an elegance to it, and a sentimental honesty, that ultimately resonates so effectively. In no small part it's Alain-Fournier's willingness to make such bold and curious leaps, and to mix traditional plots with completely unconventional twists that make it such a different book of longing for lost youth.
       An oddity, no doubt, but a memorable one.

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The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes): Reviews (*: refers to a previous translation): Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Alain-Fournier (actually: Henri Alban Fournier) lived 1886 to 1914.

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