Chéri (Colette)

Chéri is a novel by Colette. I read the German translation by Roseli and Saskia Bontjes van Beek.
Finished on: 12.10.2021
[Here’s my review of the 2009 movie adaptation.]

Plot:
Léa has lived a full life as the lover of various rich men. Now that she has grown older herself, she has instead taken a young lover herself, Chéri. Chéri is the son of her friend Charlotte and almost 25 years younger than her. He is a petulant, aimless but beautiful man and Léa never expected to be with him for as long as they have. When he tells her that he will get married soon, Léa is surprised at how hard the news hits her. And Chéri, too, finds that life without Léa isn’t quite what he expected.

Chéri is a beautiful written, insightful character study that I very much enjoyed to read. I am definitely looking forward to reading its sequel.

The book cover showing a painting of a fireplace with various pieces of clothes strewn around it.

My introduction to Colette and Chéri was the movie adaptation that I have fond memories of (I have to re-watch now, knowing the book). When I saw it, I wanted to read the book immediately, and it only took me a decade to actually do so (meanwhile, there is also this biopic). But it was worth the wait, I have to say. It really is very good.

Chéri is not a book with a very elaborate plot. It’s more interested in its characters and their relaitonships with each other. And the characters are absolutely vibrant. Not only Léa and Chéri, but also the few supporting characters. Colette has a way of describing them that you immediately get an idea of who they are in their hearts, even if they don’t know it themselves.

Chéri is a great character, but not particularly likeable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he is an asshole through and through, even if his assholishness comes from neglect and a very sad childhood. That’s an explanation, not an excuse. Léa on the other hand was wonderful through and through, apart form her questionable love for Chéri. Not that she’s perfect, but she’s still great. Her wisdom, her clarity with herself, the way she accepts the consequences in dignity – I really loved her.

I found her love for Chéri questionable not only because of who Chéri is as a person, but also the way their relationship is described. Motherly love, romantic love and sexual desire are deeply intertwined here, in a way that calls for psychoanalysis. Usually, I find these kind of takes overwrought and overwritten, but it’s very well-handled here, so I barely minded. Especially since it’s clear that the book is not suggesting that Léa and Chéri are some kind of destined couple and that we should be rooting for a HEA.

In any case, I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel, and then dive more deeply into Colette’s writing.

Summarizing: very good.

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