John's Reviews > Cheri and The Last of Cheri

Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette
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it was amazing
bookshelves: avatars-gods-energy-sources, fiction-bruised-trembling, fine-strange-foreign, novellas-edgy-magnificent, thorny
Recommended to John by: Maybe a older woman w/ a lot to offer?
Recommended for: readers who long for a reawakening, in every sense
Read 2 times. Last read January 1, 1970 to August 1, 2011.

Virginia Woolf, though rather a she-wolf herself, declared that reading Colette made her feel "dowdy." So too, getting into these twinned short masterpieces of love perverse yet pure, indeed superlunary, you yourself will likely feel pretty country-mouse & small-town. Yet you’ll also get stung to the quick, all five senses reawakened. Colette begins the 1st novella w/ a worldly woman’s bare arms extended above a tousled morning bed, demanding her pearls, & then ends the 2nd w/ a man on a threadbare divan, in an outrageous kimono, w/ opium-smoking apparatus at hand, running his life-weary but still-beautiful eyes over long-ago photographs of his former love. In between there’s just no denying the tangles of arousal — sexual, yes, but it’s the emotional that truly knots us up. We quicken at exposure to the lissome Cherí, actual name Frederick, a prostitute’s son in his late teens as the story starts, a boy both overindulged & neglected. The love that shapes both fictions is that between this gorgeous youngster & another whore, though perhaps her price entitles her to be called a “courtesan.” The remarkable Léa has had a career that’s left her rich, & why should she apologize now for her appreciation of the fabulous Cherí? Yes, he’s 30 years her junior, & but why shouldn’t this Queen of the Fairies have her own Puck, sniggering over what fools these mortals be? Isn’t Léa mentoring her kept boy? Isn’t she exhibiting, far better than his mother ever could, sustaining love? These ambiguities & others often take the forms of delicious ironies, in conversations & turns of phrase that can make us laugh aloud: “Telephoning to a discarded mistress is riskier by far than holding out your hand in the street to a nervous enemy....” Colette herself knew those ambiguities, to be sure. This author’s a notorious case, taken advantage of as a young woman, then turning that abuse to her advantage, climbing over lech paramours to stellar careers in both theater & writing (she was the Madonna of her time, photographed unendingly, often in the nude). Yet such worldliness & sensuality — the meals & the fashions, in CHERÍ & THE LAST.., are rendered every bit as ripely as the lovemaking — aren’t what make these two accomplishments Colette’s greatest. What distinguishes these stories is their sensitivity to the young man, as much to his older woman. Sophisticated Colette reveals her savvy in something simple, the titles, for these books together constitute Cherí’s tragedy, not Léa's. Cherí's suffering even embraces what we’d now call PTSD, post-World-War-I. The boy's cynicism curdles into a man's despair, & eventually a creature made for love alone gets crushed by dawning awareness that “his world, though people thought of it as reckless, was governed by a code almost as narrow-minded as middle-class prejudice.”
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 1, 1970 – Started Reading
August 1, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 3, 2011 – Shelved
August 3, 2011 – Shelved as: avatars-gods-energy-sources
August 3, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction-bruised-trembling
August 3, 2011 – Shelved as: fine-strange-foreign
August 3, 2011 – Shelved as: novellas-edgy-magnificent
August 3, 2011 – Shelved as: thorny

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook Great review. Great Colette!


John Hey, thanks Sketch, & everyone else.


message 3: by Lori (new)

Lori I loved Cheri when I read it in French - a Parisian woman gave it to me for light reading and I found it anything but. I read the Last of Cheri in English which certainly made it easier for me but lost the nuances of French.

Your excellent close reading of this John makes me want to reread both of these novels as I immerse my self in a book the first time and come out with a clear idea of how much I loved it on an emotional barometer, but need to reread things 2, 3 even four times to really understand what a masterpiece certain books are. As I said, an underrated writer, especially in a still chauvinistic France.


John Lori, thanks so much. Merci du fond de coeur. That review of mine is based on the Stenhouse translation, the easiest to find in the States & highly regarded.


message 5: by Lori (new)

Lori John wrote: "Lori, thanks so much. Merci du fond de coeur. That review of mine is based on the Stenhouse translation, the easiest to find in the States & highly regarded."

merci a toi - je peux te tutoyer, j'espere?

I will look for it. I hate looking for books on Amazon as a retired book clerk, but sometimes just cannot find them at stores, will call the Strand though.


John Merci encore, m'amie. But -- you're speaking of Stenhouse/Colette? That's easy to find. Or do you mean my novels? Or what?

The Strand's a great place, anyway.


message 7: by Lori (new)

Lori would like to get around to your novels.
Do you live in New York?


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