Picks and Pans Review: Colette: a Life
Here in America we have Cher and Madonna. In France they had Colette. Hard though it may be for today's MTV or VH-1 viewer to believe, in the mono-named babes sweepstakes. Colette beats out her American rivals both in the talent and the outre sexual escapades departments.
During her 81 years (1873-1954). Colette was a major "figure in French culture. She wrote some 50 books (including the Claudine and Cheri novels), dashed off newspaper and magazine articles and appeared onstage as an actress (often in scanty outfits). She was thrice married and had notorious affairs, one with a stepson half her age. several with women. And don't forget the chain of cosmetics shops that sold Colette brand makeup: she could often be found in the stores offering her personal beauty secrets—most of which had to do with eyeliner, lots and lots of eyeliner.
Of such colorful lives are juicy biographies written, but this isn't one of them. Lottman, the author of earlier biographies on Gustave Flaubert and Albert Camus, makes Colette's story seem curiously fiat.
Then again, given the bare facts of her life, no book about Colette could be totally dull. Lottman does come up with occasional graceful phrases or amusing scenes, such as one in which artist-writer Jean Cocteau, after lunching with Colette, then 80, notes in his diary that her deafness is a problem. "Colette," Cocteau wrote, "has placed herself in a sort of naive mist in which she hears only what she wants to. and she uses it to keep her distance from our world." Lottman adds sharply, "The contrast between this "mist' of Cocteau's and the sharpness of her letters from this time, however, makes us wonder whether she may not simply have felt that communication with this man was not worth the effort."
Were Colette able to read this biography, she might well feel the same about Lottman. (Little. Brown. $24.95)
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