“Any writer whose existence is long drawn out turns in the end towards his past, either to revile it or rejoice in it.” This is Colette’s comment in the preface to this beautiful book, which is her own thoughtful gaze into the past. Reading it felt somewhat like flipping through a verbal photo-album: a series of images, each describing a separate moment of her past. Ordinary moments of joy, surprise, humor, confusion, but which together make up the fabric of her childhood.
The structure of the two novellas contained in this book (My Mother’s House and Sido) reminded me of Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs : a series of sketches and vignettes loosely woven together into a larger whole. The timeline is anything but a line – in one scene we see Colette as a child of nine, and in the next she’s a skeptical 15-year-old. At other times we see her as an old woman, pulling up memories of her brother as an elfin 6-year-old, while the man he has become strolls through her kitchen with wrinkled hands and graying hair.
The unifying figure among these stories is Sido, Colette’s mother. We see her from many angles: fiery and opinionated, yet tender and comforting. She’s a woman who sees the world in a fresh way, who can respond to a child reading ghost stories by saying,
“Have you been reading that ghost story, Minet-Chéri? It’s a lovely story, isn’t it? I can’t imagine anything lovelier than the description of the ghost wandering by moonlight in the churchyard. The part, you know, where the author says that the moonlight shone right through the ghost and that it cast no shadow on the grass. A ghost must be a wonderful thing to see. I only wish I could see one; I should call you at once if I did. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. But if I could become a ghost after my death, I certainly should, to please you and myself too. And have you read that idiotic story about a dead woman’s revenge? I ask you, did you ever hear such rubbish! What would be the use of dying if one didn’t gain more sense by it? No, my child, the dead are a peaceful company. I don’t fall out with my living neighbours, and I’ll undertake to keep on good terms with the dead ones!”
Told with humor and beauty, this memoir is one that sticks in the mind even after the book has been put down.