Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Vagabond, Colette

Gigi may have been my introduction but The Vagabond remains my baptism. Colette is one of my favorite writers ever:

My street, under the greenish gas at this hour, is a morass of toffee-like, creamy mud - coffee-colored, maroon and caramel yellow - a sort of crumbling, slushy trifle in which the floating bits of meringue are lumps of concrete.

Reading her is a pleasure. Any world is marvelously observed and the pleasure of her language is measured out in exact portions. There are no impenetrable densities here, her writing is as natural as reading. And her characters are thoroughly human, pain and beauty intact:

No matter what visitor, for a mere tradesman, or even for my charwoman Blandine, I should raise this drooping neck, straighten that slouching hip and clasp those empty hands. But tonight I am so alone.

Her first books, the Claudine series, were famously published under the pen name of her first husband, Henri Gauthier-Villars. This, her first novel without him, is deeply autobiographical. It is the story of a woman locating strength in her solitude, adjusting to a new place in society, as she works to support herself in dance halls after a failed marriage. Asked to marry again, the novel is a contemplation on exchanging freedom for security and the eventual answer she gives her suitor. A more thoughtful review can be found here. I only want to encourage enthusiasm for one of France's great glories.

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