Cheri, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


This title is Translated by Roger Senhouse. Lea de Lonval is a magnificent and aging courtesan facing the end of her career.

She has devoted the last six years to the amorous education of the exquisitely handsome and spoilt Cheri - a playboy half her age.

When an advantageous marriage is arranged for Cheri, Lea reluctantly decides their relationship must end.

But neither lover can forsee how deeply they are connected, or how much they will have to give up.

First published in 1920, it was instantly greeted by Marcel Proust and Andre Gide as a masterpiece. "I devoured Cheri at a gulp. What a wonderful subject and with what intelligence, mastery and understanding of the least-admitted secrets of the flesh". (Andre Gide).




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The first book I've read by Colette, Cheri is sensual, lethargic and must have been quite scandalous when it was first published in 1920. It tells the story of the courtesan Lea, who has spent the past six years of her life indulging and educating a friend's spoiled, selfish son in the pleasures of life. When he is due to be married, she has to disentangle herself from him - a task which comes to be more difficult than she had anticipated.I can understand why people might not like this book. After all, Cheri himself is profoundly unsympathetic. The supporting cast of aging courtesans, with their pretensions to gentility and their gossiping, two-faced friendship, feel like the denizens of a Toulouse-Lautrec print. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has been quite some time since I've sat down with a book which has revelled with so much unalloyed pleasure in the mastery of language. Much of the credit must go to Roger Senhouse for his English translation, which manages to be subtly sardonic as well as elegiac. Second, as a Wilde fan I thought there was a definite feel about it of Dorian Gray: the infatuation of the older generation for the younger, as if they're courting their own youth again; and the fact that gorgeous outward looks can hide a rather nasty and immature character beneath. And then, third, it's a delicious exploration of the female gaze. Cheri is described in the kind of languid prose that reminded me at times of Death in Venice, and Colette's work delves into all the psychological complexity of an older woman infatuated by a beautiful boy.It's a short book, but for liveliness of language and freshness of spirit, it completely captured me. I'm looking forward to reading some more of Colette's work; and would anyone recommend the recent film of Cheri? Or is it best to steer well clear?