The Great Gatsby may have been inspired by it, and Sal Paradise, the narrator of On the Road, carried a copy of it on his travels. But few Americans have heard of “the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature.” That’s what the British novelist John Fowles called Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, a revered French classic published in the fall of 1913. This centenary edition of the short book is timed to the anniversary of the author’s death barely a year later: Henri-Alban Fournier (his real name) was killed during the early months of World War I, just before he turned 28.
A story of restless youthful questing, The Lost Domain (the translator wisely gave up on a literal rendition of the title) casts a fairy-tale spell—without feeling merely old-fashioned. The haunting account of two teenage companions, one a bold wanderer at 17 and the other a little younger and a lot warier, is steeped in Alain-Fournier’s long-gone rural past. Yet the protracted adolescent limbo it evokes is familiar.