Gigi / Colette; translated from the French by Roger Senhouse & Patrick Leigh Fermor.
New York: FSG, 2001, c1944.
I thought I'd try out some Colette for my Century of Books project, and since I had Gigi handy, I started there. Perhaps not the best first try.
Gigi is well-known in the English speaking world, mostly because of its adaptation into a musical. I did see that musical on stage when it was performed here in Stratford some years ago, and I had the same problem with it as I did when reading this. The whole concept of a family of courtesans, and Gigi's courting and winning by a much older man who has been a kind of 'uncle' is, well, off-putting.
The novella itself is not too bad -- it begins with Gigi talking with her very strict grandmother, who is grooming her to enter the family business, that of courtesan/coquette. They all discuss the lives of other women, and who they've snagged, and what they see for Gigi, and so on.
Into this small family is added a man. A rich, upper class man who likes to drop by and just hang out with Gigi's grandmother, which he finds a relaxing break from his regular life. Get that? He's a friend of Gigi's grandmother. And he plays games with Gigi, treating her as a sweet little girl. But then she's not so little, and he suddenly wants to make her his mistress. Gigi refuses, despite the pleas of her mother & grandmother, who think this is a marvellous opportunity.
But Gigi's stubborness wins the day, and as anyone who has seen the film or play knows, she gets not only who she wants, but what she wants...a more stable relationship than the first one proposed.
This was very light, and very, very French. I am going to have to try another of her works to see if I would enjoy another one more. Gigi felt very brief and frothy to me, not much solid content to impress me. Especially as I just read another set of short stories published about the same time, those of Elsa Triolet, whose realism and wartime valour make poor Gigi pale in comparison.
The writing style is easily read, and quite enjoyable in itself, but this storyline didn't please me too much. While I didn't dislike this in the way that I did the books I've read by Francoise Sagan, there is a certain French sensibility which just doesn't catch me. I'm hoping I'll end up liking Colette after a few more tries much more than I like Sagan.