Cheri – 4/5 Stars
Cheri is the novel of Fred, a young man raised by a single mother who in his 18th year took on an older lover. Combined with the kind of confidence building of this and his own mother’s ways of building him up into something much more than he actually is, he begins to over-estimate himself and act destructively as a consequence. Cheri is a kind of early century (well 1930) primer on toxic masculinity, especially in the ways in which a man’s proximity to women doesn’t allow him to better understand and treat them but as a way to undercut and exploit them. When we begin this novel it’s clear that the longstanding affair between Cheri and his lover Lea means more to both of them than either seems capable of letting on. In part this stems from their class differences, and in a significant way it stems from their age difference. Cheri, being the younger sees this affair as more of a rite of passage and possibly something that gets him ready for the world, while he is upset that it ends, when it does end, his response is not a healthy accounting of oneself, but as oft happens, a quick rebound that digs him and another young woman into a deeply connected, if not deeply meaningful marriage. Lea, for her part, see’s Cheri’s impression on her life, not so much as something tremendously lost, so much as something that was allowed to go on for too long, creating unfortunate and overly-realized feelings.
The Last of Cheri – 4/5 Stars
This follow up to Cheri takes place some 5-6 years after the previous novel and now finds Cheri home from the war, completely disconnected from the world financially and emotionally, and still married to Edmee of the last novel, and still very much not in love with her. He’s not really in love with Lea still either, though he thinks of her all the time, an obsessive kind of thinking that probably stems more from her being the last significant relationship of his life and a huge part of his formative years more so than a a desire to want her back. In the ways that one’s ex can take on significance in absence that they can never live up to in presence, this longing manifests in his feelings while also further deepening the rift between his wife and him. This rift is characterized by what could be construed as affection for one another, but quickly devolves into resentment not just in their being saddled together, but especially for Cheri, in his inability to actually affect her anymore. He begins to realize that not only does he not love her, but she’s starting to no longer lover him, and he cannot control and manipulate him anymore. This disaffection begins to unravel the already tenuous control he seems to feel over his life, especially as he realizes that he has gone from his controlling relationship with his mother, to his relationship with Lea, and now to an increasingly impotent relationship with Edmee.
I don’t know if it’s fair to call these Colette novels an inverse of traditionally told stories, but that’s what they feel like. In a lot of ways, these stories take stories that generally highlight men’s abuse of power of women, or a general exercise of male dominance or male privilege in society and then flip the script. Obviously this is not a neutral act because god damn are men’s rights activist looking for ways to suggest that “women are just as bad as men” or more specifically “women are worst than men”. I often read articles about women teachers taking advantage of young male students. In fact, I was at a school where this directly happened. It’s not a good situation at all and the young student is definitively hurt by the situation despite what male commenter’s on local newspaper websites would have you believe. But statistically these situations are vastly dwarfed by the number of men teachers who take advatange young girl students. So this book does not create narratives in which women do the things men do in order to try to suggest women are just as bad as men, but instead they highlight the discrepancy in how those incidents are framed and discussed.
So this novel focuses on a marriage in which the woman is discovered to have cheated on the man. This discovery is made when an old letter is discovered. The following novel is 100 pages of whining by the man while the woman basically says repeatedly let me know when you’re over this. It’s not particularly tasteful of a position, but there’s a kind of World Cup-level flopping happening. To wit; the last time I was “cheated on” I saw it as a relief because it was a bad and abusive relationship that I finally was able to put to bed. Cheating is definitely not good, but generally doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
The Cat 3/5
The Cat! The cat! I don’t know if in France men are more traditionally associated with cats than women, but in this short novel, that’s the case. Here we have a marriage probably too hastily taken on and the new husband is unwilling to give up anything for the sake of the new life the couple is embarking upon. In this particular case, this refusal is embodied in a cat who stands in for every part of the former life of the husband. And so, what we have going on here is a man who refuses to become part of a union and is constantly deferring back to his life previous to the wedding. As in the novel previous, Duo, we have a reversal of expectations with the wife not being the one unable to conform to the life of the man, but the man being unable to understand that now he is part of something bigger than himself. In novels today, this is a not a particularly radical way to write a character given that more women writers mean more novels told from a perspective of women characters, but it does feel refreshing and interesting to see it in this early 20th century text. There’s a funny kind of attention that the man pays to the cat and then woman, being more or less ignored definitely takes it out on the cat, which is not ideal, but is understandable at least emotionally in terms of how we’re meant to feel about this narrative.
The Other One 3/5
Theater is rife for cheating as I am wont to understand and believe from the various novels I have read on the subject. In this novel we have the Farou couple, a housewife and a playwright. This couple is dealing with the very common experience of the husband putting himself out there in his field and industry and the poor wife having to basically completely acquiesce to these choices as they were not only the obvious choice but also the only choice. It’s a goddamn choice to be a playwright. And it needs to be said that men who create love to flaunt their beholdenness and fatalism in the face of their “art” as if those are the only possible ways to move forward. Colette loves to create men who hate marriage, feel unable to resist it, and then can’t even have the temerity to be gay or something understandable rather than simply not get married. In this novel, the great artist himself not only can’t help being busy, and being talented, but falsely feels he has some of that BDE people keep talking about these days. He’s probably most definitely a hack though.
Barks and Purrs 2/5
When you imagine your pets at home when you’re not there what are they saying?
I have an 8 year old dog, a 5 year old cat, and a 10 month old kitten. Here’s their day: dog waits for us to come home. Kitten messes with dog all day and is also her very best friend. 5 year old cat sits in the window not waiting, not not waiting, just being.
When the dog goes out into the backyard, the kitten goes with her, enlists her as a kind of bodyguard, and follows her around the yard.
The dog sends us constant warnings about the cats’ doings, and when we go out of the bedroom at night (cats are banned) the cats are holding some kind of meeting.
This novella puts dialog to those moments between the cats and dogs in our lives. It’s more “Grendel” than Lady and the Tramp, so the conversations are symbolic and false and fabricated rather than realistic, so be warned, and also this isn’t a great story at all, but the cheek is appreciated.
Over all as the tenth book by Colette, this is fine, but had this been the first, it might have been the last.