A FORMER magazine editor has caused a sensation in Parisian literary circles
with a memoir exposing the “love triangle” she shared with Françoise Sagan
and the famous novelist’s boyfriend.
The relationship between Annick Geille, a former editor of French Playboy, and
the wayward, waif-like Sagan was an open secret in Paris and the first
detailed account of it has stirred nostalgia among literati for a time when
French writers were feted worldwide and seemed much more colourful. “From
these beautiful pages,” wrote a critic of Geille’s book, Un Amour de Sagan,
“wafts the strange perfume of a time lost for ever.”
The story could have come straight from one of Sagan’s novels: Geille wanted
her to write a short story for her magazine but the author’s secretary had
told her that this would be “very, very expensive”. When Geille went to
visit, Sagan invited her up to her bedroom and plied her with vodka.
“We didn’t leave each other’s side for months – years, even,” writes Geille,
who had been in the throes of a divorce when they met. “I had my own room in
her house and in the morning I wore her dressing gown.”
Geille felt a coup de foudre for this “frail woman who smelt faintly
of vanilla and menthol cigarettes”. The attraction was mutual. “No one will
ever hurt you again,” the twice-divorced Sagan told her in that first
meeting. “Everything will be fine. I’m rarely wrong about people.” On their
second meeting not long afterwards, Geille asked Sagan if she believed in
love. “Are you joking?” Sagan replied. “I believe in passion. Nothing else.
Two years, no more. All right, then: three.”
However, things were complicated in the Sagan household. The author, who had
won global renown when she published Bonjour Tristesse, her first novel, at
the age of 18, already had a girlfriend. Peggy Roche, a fashion stylist,
shared most of her life with the novelist.
Not only that, but Sagan also had a boyfriend, who was married to somebody
else. Bernard Frank, an essayist obsessed with reading and eating, seemed to
spend most of his time in the south of France and cared as little for
convention as Sagan.
“Couples are so boring, don’t you agree?” Sagan asked Geille soon after they
had met. “Being part of a couple doesn’t stop them [Roche and Frank] from
having affairs with other people and it doesn’t impinge on my work or my
One day Geille found herself having dinner with Frank and imagined having sex
with him: “I would not give in too quickly, it would be exciting,” she
wrote. “Françoise would say nothing, she was all in favour of the free
circulation of desires, their unpredictable freedom.”
Later that evening they had drinks at Sagan’s house. She had just returned
from a trip with Roche. The women seemed to understand that Geille and Frank
were attracted to one another. “As soon as she had understood what was going
on between him and me, Peggy looked radiant,” wrote Geille.
“‘Now you are part of the family,’ she said.”
This kind of elaborate, cross-gender love triangle – portrayed by François
Truffaut in his cult film Jules et Jim – is part of French cultural
mythology, so it is hardly surprising that Geille’s book is such a success.
“Un Amour de Sagan,” said Paris Match, is “of a high literary value . . . In
the hands of a more thankless stylist, the material would have fallen into
vulgarity or sensation.”
The French, it seems, are greatly nostalgic, not only for the literary glory
they used to enjoy but also for the sexual freedom represented by Sagan, who
is the subject of a forthcoming French feature film.
Besides her unconventional love life, she had a fondness for drugs and fast
cars, and would hand out bundles of bank-notes to beggars. Poor health
prevented Sagan from appearing at a tax-fraud trial in 2002 in which she was
convicted and given a 12-month suspended sentence.
Nicknamed “the charming little monster” by François Mau-riac, the novelist,
Sagan was befriended in America by Tru-man Capote, the writer, and Ava
Gardner, the actress.
When she died from a blood clot in the lung in 2004, the web-site of the
French culture ministry was uncharacteristically lyrical in its obituary:
“She drove her Jaguar barefooted and burnt her money in the nightclubs of St
Tropez. She challenged her own life to a duel by indulging in the very
pleasures that killed her.” Two years after Sagan’s death, Frank died from a
heart attack while dining in a restaurant in Paris. His wife said he had
been discussing politics at the moment of his death. Roche had already died
As for Geille, she must have learnt something from Sagan. She is now a