Monday, June 04, 2012

Beach reading 2012

I've been known to take a stack of books to the beach, and even though I don't do more than lie under an umbrella for three or four days, sipping a frosty drink, I still don't have time to read all of them. For one thing, I'm easily amused -- by gulls and their endless patient stalking for a treat, the silvery roll of a finned back out in the Gulf, stiff-winged cormorants or big, gliding Brown Pelicans making a sudden dive and splash. All of this takes hours...and so I don't have time to read all those books!

This year, I packed light -- Breakfast at Tiffany's and Colette's Chéri, both of them rather slim. I still had to finish Chéri at home, too. I must finally get to In Cold Blood -- I love Capote's style, whether it's the heart-wringing A Christmas Story -- sweet, sentimental, funny, sad -- or in BaT, where he is clever and affectionate, but he doesn't let anyone off the hook. Holly is far more dark and exasperating than Audrey Hepburn's charming portrayal, but Capote writes her very sympathetically. I wonder how much of himself he saw in her -- she could be thoughtless, cruel, but also completely delightful, wrapping everyone into her fantasy, even when they knew better.

Chéri was, of course, beautifully written -- can anyone match Colette for the sensuous description? -- the curve of a settee, the play of rosy light on fluttering curtains, the arrangement of limbs, the sugared crust of a pastry eaten in bed. The story's protagonist is the beautiful and aging Parisian courtesan Léa, who is dealing with the letting go of her young lover, nicknamed Chéri, the son of one of her own friends (although I think "frenemy" is the most accurate modern description of their relationship). Chéri's marriage to a young girl has been arranged by their fractious mothers, but the young man is vain, petty, beautiful, and spoiled. He expects to have an obedient wife who lets him go his old ways as well as his mistress. Léa is worldly and wise, but still shaken by Cheri's marriage -- it becomes the looking glass of her vanishing youth. So many times, as she was observing the inevitable march of time in her actual mirror -- trying to apply the little arts to mask the effects on her skin, her hair, her morphing silhouette -- I was silently commiserating, "Tell me about it, girlfriend!" I rather keenly felt the poignancy of that very particular loss -- portrayed more seriously and more intimately than it usually is.

So, I expect there will be more Colette to come -- I haven't read any of the Claudine novels, although I did read a lesser known one several years ago (at the beach!) called The Pure and the Impure. It sounds much racier than it was. She reminds me of a randier Jane Austen -- a great observer of the ways of society, a sophisticated wit, and possessing a wonderful ability to lay bare (ahem!) the weaknesses and foibles of her characters.

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