Colette novellas

As a teenager I loved Colette's Claudine books, and constantly re-read them. Don't know why they were such a favourite, probably that mix of humour, a coming-of-age story which was set at just the same age as I was, a hint of the sensual, and a perfect evocation of the period. I still have very vivid memories of reading Claudine in Vienna, and then in Switzerland during my first rail trip across Europe, so it's very much bound up with my own coming-of-age.

I haven't read any Colette in a very long time, but after seeing the recent adaptation of Cheri featuring a wonderful central performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, who can give us all lessons in how to age gracefully, I was tempted to read more Colette, and so read the two short novellas Gigi and The Cat

Gigi is completely wonderful. Surprisingly short, it was the inspiration for the film musical of the same name. Similar to Claudine, it is the story of a girl's coming-of-age. Gigi has been brought up by her mother, grandmother and aunt to be a courtesan, and once they realize that an old friend of the family Gaston is interested in her, the family train her up to become his mistress, Gigi however has other ideas, and ends up marrying Gaston. It's interesting that several critics have noted that the novella represents the triumph of love over cynicism, but Gigi's Aunt's cryptic comment that Gigi is better than the rest of the family in the art of bending men to her will rather suggests that Gigi might be in love with Gaston (as indeed the rest of the book suggests), or might actually just be better at playing the courtesan's game than the rest of the family. Either way it is a delightful read - full of humour, little character vignettes, and a wonderful evocation of fin-de-siecle Paris.

The cat on the other hand I found rather harder to get into. A young indolent wealthy man marries, but a love triangle develops between himself, his bride, and his Russian Blue cat Saha - there's even an attempted murder. I found the whole story a bit daft ; would definitely recommend Gigi, but did find The cat a bit of a waste of time.


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