Cheri and The Last of Cheri
Book Review - Cheri and the Last of Cheri by Colette
Flâner Series 1/3
Flâner literally means “to stroll idly,” without any goal or destination in mind. While the word itself is a verb and not so much a feeling, there’s a certain beauty in strolling along the streets leisurely. It is this feeling we feel when we decide one day to just walk around, and look at the people and the buildings and find the beauty in details we so often miss. It is this feeling Francophiles spend their whole lives chasing. - Capsule Books
The next three books reviews are books that came in my August Capsule, which I won on an Instagram giveaway. Capsule Books are sent quarterly and contain three secret books centered around a theme. I chose the Flâner from three choices because I love all things French and especially the concept of being a flâneur - which definitely describes me and one of my favorite pastimes. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I have enjoyed reading and writing about it.
This book is actually two books in one: Chéri and The Last of Chéri. Both books were written by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (best known simply as Colette.) Chéri was published in 1920 and The Last of Chéri followed 6 years later in 1926. Chéri is a 25-year-old boy who has been in a 6 year relationship with a forty-nine-year-old courtesan, Léa. Their relationship seems to be rather casual in nature, as Chéri is engaged to be married to Edmée. However, after Chéri and Edmée are wed, Léa leaves town without a word to anyone and soon after, Chéri leaves home for months mourning the loss of his relationship with Léa and realizing that he is constantly comparing his wife to his former lover. When Léa returns to town, she and Chéri realize that their relationship was based on love and they begin to make plans to run away together...but are they the same people they were before Chéri got married?
The Last of Chéri begins 6 years after the last time Chéri and Léa saw each other - during which World War I occurred and Chéri came home a war hero. Chéri and Edmée's marriage is still on the rocks and they are essentially living completely separate lives (although Edmée and Chéri's mother are quite close and reveling in the newfound freedom women of the suffragette movement.) Chéri is wandering aimlessly through life without any clear direction and still obsessing over his past relationship with Léa. They are once again reunited and things are so different than they had been before the war that Chéri can hardly believe this is the same Léa he had once loved.
The theme that stuck out to me the most in both books is best expressed by this John Steinbeck quote, "You can't go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory." In both books, Chéri and Léa try to rekindle a relationship that they remember to be great and both times they come to the conclusion that it wasn't how they remembered it - it wasn't as great as it had been. At least one or the other wasn't happy with the way things felt in comparison to how they remembered their relationship to be.
Sometimes I find classic books difficult to read. The style of writing is different and takes some time to get into the swing of it, there are references that I miss, and sometimes the characters just seem overly dramatic. I wish I had counted the number of epiphanies that occurred in these two books - there were a lot. Or characters reacting in a highly dramatic way that don't seem to be in line with what just occurred. But despite all of this, I really enjoyed reading these books. There were a lot of references to fashion that I enjoyed - I could see this book being used in a fashion history course for the late 1800s/early 1900s. All in all, if you want to read a classic book (perhaps a New Year Resolution?) I'd recommend this one - plus you can claim to have read two!
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