Awww, man! I loved Le Grand Meaulnes. I'd say it's the best book I've read all year, but I guess I don't have much with which to compare it. I don’t remember exactly where I came across it, but I think it might have been in the introduction to John Fowles’s The Magus. He listed Le Grand Meaulnes as an influence. What’s funny is that so far, I’ve tl;dr-ed The Magus because it’s so long (though I don’t think I can hold it off for much longer), but I’d heard of Le Grand Meaulnes somewhere else, too, and the Goodreads blurb sounded intriguing, so I figured I’d look it up.
And boy was I impressed. I enjoyed every minute of this one.
It’s basically a French coming-of-age novel set in the 1890s and very early 20th century. The narrator, Francois, meets Meaulnes, at school. Both are roughly seventeen. One day, Meaulnes runs off and gets lost in the countryside, where he finds this grand estate and crashes a wedding party. The whole thing seems magical, sprinkled with fairy dust. While he’s there, he meets the most beautiful woman he could imagine. The party ends abruptly, and he’s forced to leave without seeing her again. He returns to school but becomes obsessed with finding her. He tells Francois his story, and both boys work to discover clues about the estate’s location (the English translation I read is titled The Lost Estate) and what happened to the girl.
Oh, it was so good, and it’s clear how it influenced several novels I’ve read, probably including Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Alain-Fournier’s story is amazing, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a good translation. That makes all the difference. Le Grand Meaulnes really makes me want to dig in to The Magus to see the influence.