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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Les Amitiés Particulières by Roger Peyrefitte

I was so happy to have found this book, as it is out of print in English and therefore very hard to get a hold of. With some persuasion to my dad, I managed to get Les Amitiés Particulières for fifty pounds on Ebay. As my volume is first edition from 1950 (making it that much more special!) there are some signs of wear, but mostly it is a very well-made book in good condition. None of the pages fell out as I read, like in some of the other old-ish books I own that were actually printed in the 80s, and the text wasn't overly faded in places. In fact, it has that lovely old book smell to it, another reason why I love it!

Georges De Sarre is a fourteen year-old boy with an aristocratic background, enrolling in Catholic boarding school, Saint Claude, under his parents instruction. At first he is reluctant to go to public school, as he had been home-tutored all his school life, but he soon makes friends with the two boys who sit next to him - Lucien Rouvière and Marc de Blajan, whom are both polar opposites of each other. Lucien has a secret friendship (read: relationship) with another boy in the school, André Ferron.
Marc, on the other hand, cryptically informs him that some people may seem good, but are in fact not; referring to Ferron whom is romantically involved with Lucien two years his junior. Set in the 1920s, this would typically be the response of peers in this situation. The main character, Georges, is confused by this statement, but soon comes to realise what de Blajan meant. Instead of being disgusted or disturbed of their behaviour like Marc, he becomes envious of Ferron for having Lucien's affections. He becomes close friends with Lucien, but on the other hand seeks to destroy his relationship by getting Ferron expelled. When Ferron was removed from Saint Claude by his doing, Georges felt very guilty and regretted his decision despite having Lucien all to himself.
Whilst watching a communion one morning, Georges sees the beautiful 12 year-old Alexandre Motier, who is serving as the altar boy for the ceremony. As his advances towards Lucien had remained fruitless, he soon fell for Alexandre instead. After watching and waiting to catch glimpses of the boy for a couple of months, Georges is finally introduced to Alexandre by Maurice Motier, who comments on their matching red ties.

Soon, the two boys meet in secret at the greenhouse - the place where Lucien and Ferron would often rendezvous - and exchange poems and the odd few kisses. Their relationship is very sweet and wholesome, with no sexual connotation at all, yet the priests at the school strongly forbid such friendships despite having feelings for some boys in the school themselves.
One priest, Father De Trennes likes to wake up boys in the middle of the night to meet in secret, giving them alcohol and cigarettes as bribery to talk with him. While nothing sexual is mentioned in the books between the father and the students, it is seen as suspicious, especially as Father De Trennes seems to know about Georges' and Alexandre's relationship. Sick of being woken up in the middle of the night, and afraid of being expelled for his secret friendship, Georges cunningly slips an anonymous letter under the Rector's door, telling him to go to De Trennes' room, where he was found smoking and drinking with Maurice. Father De Trennes is dismissed from the school, and everything is almost back to normal for Georges and Alexandre.
However, Father Lauzon, a close friend of the Motier family, walks in on a secret meeting between the pair, learns about their relationship and wants it to end immediately. He simply wanted to protect Alexandre from homosexuality, but by forcing Georges to send back his love letters (as a way of saying the relationship is over), he ends up with Alexandre committing suicide. Georges feelings were unchanged towards Alexandre, and is distraught at his death. Dismissing the thought of killing himself, Georges stays alive to avenge himself and Alexandre.

Georges de Sarre in the film didn't really strike me as much as Alexandre did, but whilst reading the book, it is the other way around, as it is mostly set from Georges' point of view! We learn that he is very intelligent and studious, top of almost every class. As well as being smart, he is also very cunning and sneaky, and can come up with clever schemes to get exactly what he wants. He is also confident and bold, which comes in very useful when he's in trouble with the fathers at school.
Alexandre, on the other hand, is youthful, energetic, and has very passionate emotions. He can get carried away with certain ideas, and is quite naïve in some places. However he is also sweet and beautiful, and has been described as the angel of the college by the teachers.

To be honest, whilst I was waiting for this book to arrive in the post, I was kind of worried about whether I'd be able to understand it or not. I come from a very atheist family, so have next to no knowledge about the Catholic religion, apart from the brief lessons at school every so often. When I watched the film of this book, a lot of the religious things such as confession, mass, and all the saint days were lost on me, and I felt very ignorant about the setting. In the book, thankfully, I found it a little easier to understand - and some parts of the film I misunderstood, about the letter Georges was going to send Alexandre before his death, for example, was clarified.

I loved reading this book, and think it was well worth the money I paid for it. It has given me a lot of inspiration, and I'm so glad I found such a rare book.

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