A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Despite the well-worn idiom against judging by them, I can’t begin to tell you how many great books I’ve picked up over the years based on nothing but an equally great cover. Back in my college days I purchased a used mass market called The Wanderer without so much as skimming the contents. The Edward Gorey illustration on the cover was enough to recommend it. But it quickly became a beloved book for more than just the artwork. It’s a strange and moving coming of age tale and the only novel by a somewhat romantic French literary legend, Alain-Fournier.
I was overjoyed to see that a few years ago Penguin released an updated translation. It’s shorn of the beautiful cover and has a new but hardly more accurate English title, The Lost Estate. Yet, the magic of re-reading it wasn’t dimmed by those downgrades.
The novel follows Augustin Meaulnes, a somewhat troubled youth, who escapes from his boarding school one evening, stealing a horse and carriage. When Meaulnes finally returns he has a strange story to tell about getting utterly lost, accidentally crashing a costume party at a beautiful chateau, and then promptly falling in love with the daughter of the household—the mysterious Yvonne de Galais. To rediscover the lost estate, and hopefully reconnect with Yvonne, Meaulnes enlists the help of his more studious classmate Francois. The two embark on a year-long quest to retrace Meaulnes’ adventure, and the book is as much about their friendship as it is the romantic pursuit.
The book is no longer so beautiful on the outside, and it never was a fast-paced page-turner, but The Lost Estate is so full of mystery, romance and dreamy atmosphere that I bet it will easily capture your imagination anyway.
Review by Matthew