These two novella/memoirs by Colette are fine examples of well-written books that appear to do exactly what they set out to do but that still fail to engage me. I can see that the writing is lovely and effective at conjuring up a sense of place and character, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ever care very much. Because there’s just no narrative through line to capture my interest.
My Mother’s House (translated from French by Una Vincenzo Troubridge and Enid McLeod consists of a series of short vignettes, most about four pages long, about Colette’s childhood, with a focus on her mother, known to the family as Sido. The second book in the volume, Sido (translated by Enid McLeod), consists of three character studies—of Colette’s mother, father, and brothers.
The writing really is the best thing about these books. Here, for instance, is a paragraph from a story about the animal life in Colette’s childhood home:
All was faery and yet simple among the fauna of my early home. You could never believe that a cat could eat strawberries? And yet, because I have seen him so many times, I know that Babou, that black Satan, interminable and sinuous as an eel, would carefully select in Madame Pomie’s kitchen garden the ripest of the Royal Sovereigns or the Early Scarlets. He is was, too, who would be discovered poetically absorbed in smelling newly-opened violets.
It paints a vivid picture, but that’s almost all the book is, vivid pictures that don’t go anywhere much. Each vignette operates not like a short story but like a painting, a moving painting, yes, but one without much action.
I don’t generally consider myself a person who needs a lot of plot to enjoy a book, but I’ve come to appreciate a good story more and more in recent years. And a total lack of story just doesn’t work much.
So what I’m wondering now is whether this style is typical of Colette’s work. Do the Claudine books, for example, have more of a story? I liked the writing enough that I’m open to trying more, but if all her books are like this, she may not be a writer for me.