Jaenada’s bewitching novel begins lightly enough as the middle-aged narrator attends a hilarious dinner party where the guests participate in a slapping contest even before the appetizers are served. But as the night wears on and even more alcohol is consumed, things take a more somber tone as the host tells the tragic story of his estranged, troubled daughter, Céline. Rebellious from the start, addicted to drugs, perpetually running away from home and sexually ravenous (at one point initiating an orgy with her friends during a family reunion dinner), she constantly tests the bounds of father-daughter love. Grown now, she was last seen living in a pitiable state in Marseilles.
As he listens to the story in an alcohol-induced reverie, the narrator remembers a 13-year old girl he met on summer vacation when he was 16 and begins to think that she and Céline could be the same person. The revelation launches him back to that wonderful day when the young pair met in a meadow, how nervous he was beforehand, and how they spent the afternoon making love, almost clinically making sure they had covered every possible position, configuration, and act. Looking back on the experience, and convincing himself of the girl’s identity, he feels driven to see her again to reconcile his perfect memory of the girl, and her goodness, with the cold shell of a daughter described by his friend.
Vie et mort de la jeune fille blonde is an arresting work. Social satire, mid-life crisis, sexual bildungsroman, mystery, tragedy and comedy are all rolled into one man’s quest to recapture the strange purity of his day in a meadow with a young blond girl.