Taking a gamble on a book
By Thomas Chatterton Williams
June 22, 2016
About two hours north of Paris, on the Normandy coast, are the neighboring resort towns of Deauville and Trouville. They share the same train station and are separated only by the Touques, a chalky coastal river you can walk across in less than a minute. In the mid-19th century, the river marked a boundary between two worlds: the former a marshy no-man’s land that would become a nouveau-riche haven, the latter a still pleasant but faded shell of a playground for the pre-WWI Parisian upper classes during their obligatory summer migration. My wife grew up going to the Trouville side and eating mussels and frites with her grandfather before walking along the beach. This is where she and I had the rehearsal dinner for our wedding five years ago, and this is where we’ve decided to return now, just the two of us, for the weekend. Her mother is watching our daughter, and we’re in the mood for some modest celebrating. I’ve recently sold my second book, and it feels like we should at least sleep in a hotel room to mark the occasion. And maybe a little something more: both Trouville and Deauville boast enormous casinos reminiscent of a bolder, more magnificent era.
On the train ride up, I think of the legend surrounding one of my favorite French authors, the maniac prodigy Françoise Sagan, who published Bonjour Tristesse when she was just 18 and then famously took her book advance to the casino in Deauville. There, according to her son, she “dropped huge sums” and eventually won 80,000 francs [a bit more than $130,000 today] at roulette. “She gathered up the money and toward morning … returned home drunk and lighthearted and went to sleep. When the landlord arrived as planned … in order to check the condition of the house, Françoise, too tired and sleepy to undergo the inspection, asked him whether he wanted to sell it. ‘Yes,’ replied the owner.’ ‘How much?’ asked Françoise. ‘80,000 francs.’ She pulled out the sum she had won the previous night, bought the house and went back to sleep.”
I wonder if I can be a fraction as lucky as that! After dinner, my wife and I make our way to the casino, but we barely outlast my gin and tonic. I have student loans, and I lose 60 euros in about three minutes flat. My nerve falters fast. For my efforts, I will not be getting a house out of this experience, my wife laughs, but I might just get a blog post.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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