Kj's Reviews > The Vagabond

The Vagabond by Colette
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Jun 05, 2011

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Read from June 05 to 10, 2011

For those expecting "Diaries of a French Burlesque Dancer", prepare to be disappointed. While one may approach Colette's behind-the-scenes of a traveling pantomime artist in turn-of-the-century France expecting it to be flavored with salacious frivolity to match Colette's reputation, what you'll find is more an existentialist rumination on ambivalence, than story of a passionate life. In fact, if there's one thing that most defines the divorcee-turned-stage-performer Reneé Neré, it's her distrust of passion. Colette's largely-biographical novel tracks the frustrations, distractions and depressions of a woman in her early thirties whom, in the fallout of a disastrous and damaging marriage, chooses a life of solitude on the stage, rather than one of societal rules. But it's not a story of the gay and free life of an artist. Instead, the monotony and doubt expressed by Reneé are all-too-recognizable for any single woman reader today, particularly if that reader is in-between jobs and still trying to figure out what to do with her life, with men, and with herself. (ahem).

Did I enjoy this book? Not particularly. The protagonist's reflections on self-doubt and self-denial are disruptive, and even at times, numbing.
Do I respect this book? Absolutely. To read something that speaks so frankly about women's experience, women's fears and women's strength much less about a woman living in her own apartment and making her own living during a time when corsets were still ubiquitous, is both humbling and empowering. But to spend time with Reneé Neré, is to linger in a space of dissociative hesitation and unconscious compulsion. It's uncomfortable, but truthful.
Read, respect, but do not expect to revel.

**The Dover Edition is terrible. Stanley Applebaum's introduction is meant to replace what endnotes would be, but this book desperately needs endnotes for the cultural and historical references. Also, Applebaums new "Americanized" translation reads at times like an Archie comic book. The Enid MacLeod translation may be 60 years old and egregiously British, but it's still better.**
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