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Rebonjour Sagan: 'Lost' novel causes literary stir in France

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Paris (AFP)

A 'lost' novel by author Francoise Sagan was published Thursday in France's biggest literary surprise so far this year.

The unfinished 200-page story by the writer of "Bonjour Tristesse" -- which caused a sensation with its portrayal of empty lives of the idle rich -- was found by her son Denis Westhoff in a drawer after her death in 2004.

Rumours had been rife in the Parisian books world of a shock entry into what is known as the "rentree litteraire", the frenetic few weeks in autumn when most of the big titles of the year are published.

Like her debut novel, which the hard-living Sagan wrote when she was just 17, "Four Corners of the Heart" is a laconic dissection of the lives of the French haute bourgeoisie.

An unusual love triangle, it centres on a wealthy businessman called Ludovic Cresson, who has made his fortune in vegetables.

But like Sagan herself, he has a terrible car accident, and battered and broken becomes amorously entangled with his mother-in-law.

The speed-obsessed writer nearly died at the height of her fame in 1957 when she crashed her Aston Martin sports car. Even after the accident she would think nothing of driving from Paris to Monte Carlo in her Jaguar to gamble at its casino tables.

A bisexual hedonist, the young Sagan scandalised not just the polite Parisian society that she came from, but the Western world as the first sparks of the youth revolution began to fly in the late 1950s.

- Typically sarcastic -

Her son said the "lost" novel was typically sarcastic and "Saganesque -- an incredible adventure, sometimes impudent, with a baroque tone."

Westhoff, a well-known photographer, said he came across the two-volume manuscript in a drawer after his mother's death.

He described the discovery as a "miracle" in the midst of a series of legal battles over her estate, when he said Sagan's property was being "seized, sold, given away or acquired in dubious ways".

The drafts that he found had been so photocopied that "the outline of some of the letters were far from clear", Westhoff said.

In the preface to the book, he admits to bringing it to Sagan's late editor, who did not want to publish it.

But her son decided to work on the text himself, adding missing words and sometimes whole lost passages where Westhoff said "corrections seemed necessary, taking care not to change the style or tone of the novel".

The story ends on a cliffhanger when Sagan's text trails off.

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