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Meaulnes, a charismatic boy of seventeen arrives with his mother in the village of Sologne and soon makes a big impression on the other school boys. Tall, handsome and daring; Meaulnes soon becomes the leader of a rebellious group who look up to his grand ideals. Yet one day Meaulnes decides to plan a bold expedition to another village, and disappears only to emerge days later in a strange state. His return is the talk of the town, yet Francois, his closest friend, is alarmed by the uneasy silence that has descended on Meaulnes. As the weeks go by, he becomes paler and thinner. Something preys on his mind and his friend is desperate to find out what that may be.
Then one night, Meaulnes confides in Francois. He tells of the wonder of the ‘Lost Estate‘, the mysterious carnival and his infatuation with the beautiful young woman he met there. In time, Meaulnes story spreads, and the other boys begin to hunt for the mythical lost estate. Meaulnes’ discovery turns into obsession, his obsession into despair until one day Meaulnes finally leaves the village to hunt for the magical mansion where he lost his heart…

The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (Penguin Classics)

When I first read the synopsis for this book, I thought it was going to be about Fauns, forest nymphs and other strange creatures. I had visions of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It’s not about any of those, but I was happy to discover that it played on the themes of lost childhood. If I were to describe the novel itself, I would say it has a quiet, oriental enchantment that works its way through the pages, creeps up on you, and holds you in its thrall. The novel itself is full of grand romance, of the bitter-sweet tang of childhood and the pains of growing up. Meaulnes the protagonist is a thinly disguised fictional version of Fournier, and the plot a recreation of his magical courtship with his wife characterized here by the mysterious Yvonne.

However for most young readers the language and experiences in the novel can come across as a bit dated. If you enjoy old historical romances, then this is definitely for you. The best moments are the search for the estate. Fournier had a natural knack for metaphors and I can imagine him as the kind of author who drew his inspiration from the well of youth. But having said this, he wasn’t very old when he wrote ‘Le Grand Meulnes’, and it is a shame that he died soon after the publication during the battle on the Meuse in 1914.

I must admit, I did find the beginning a little dry and was about to give up, but once I hit page 60, things became much more interesting. I think this is probably the only flaw in the book: an over-worked stasis. As a reader, I expect the stasis to set the general tone of the book. Normally it is used to introduce characters, settings and what the writer would like to portray as the ‘norm’s of the world he has created. Fournier overdid this a bit, and I found myself waiting around for the action for a tad too long.

Another thing I’d like to touch on is the translation. My copy was a newly translated version by Adam Gopnik, and I found it to be really good. There is often concern when a work needs translation, as something inevitably gets lost in the process. But I am happy to say that this was satisfactory.

I give this 3/5 Stars.