Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

Judith Thurman, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-394-58872-8
In May 1945, the elderly Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, long known by her surname, became only the second woman to be inducted into France's staid but extremely prestigious Acad mie Goncourt. At 72, she had become but a shadow of the androgynous sexpot novelist who had flouted convention in the early years of the century (even to the point of taking, when nearly 50, her teenage stepson as a lover). She had become respectable, the acclaimed author of the Claudine novels, The Last of Ch ri and Gigi. Thurman's biography comes on the heels of the final installment of Francis and Gontier's multivolume life, and it triumphantly withstands the comparison. Elegantly written and handily appearing in one substantial volume, Thurman's book has fewer personal details than the French duo's, but it is more effective at setting the morally subversive Colette in the social milieu of early-20th-century Paris. Despite much legwork on her own, Thurman does lean upon Colette's many recent French biographers. And her account of the Nazi occupation of France is sometimes hard to follow. But the book is impressive. Thurman (whose Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, won the National Book Award in 1982) does not hesitate to expose the dishonest, selfish, exploitive facets of the feminist icon who wrote articles for Occupation newspapers and sometimes behaved heartlessly toward lovers. Nevertheless, her Colette comes off as an appealing, even heroic, figure, quoted memorably as saying, ""What more can one be sure of than that which one holds in one's arms, at the moment one holds it in one's arms."" 24 pages of provocative photographs. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 616 pages - 978-0-7475-4843-0
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-7475-4309-1
Paperback - 660 pages - 978-0-345-37103-4
Open Ebook - 477 pages - 978-0-307-78981-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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