Chéri and The End of Chéri
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From the publisher
Translated from the French by Paul Eprile, introduction by Judith Thurman
Colette’s Chéri (1920) and its sequel, The End of Chéri (1926), are widely considered her masterpieces. In sensuous, elegant prose, the two novels explore the evolving inner lives and the intimate relationship of an unlikely couple: Léa de Lonval, a middle-aged former courtesan, and Fred Peloux, twenty-five years her junior, known as Chéri. The two have been involved for years, and it is time for Chéri to get on with life, to make something of himself, but he, the personification of male beauty and vanity, doesn’t know how to go about it. It is time, too, for Léa to let go of Chéri and the sensual life that has been hers, and yet this is more easily resolved than done. Chéri marries, but once married he is restless and is inevitably drawn back to his mistress, as she is to him. And yet to reprise their relationship is only to realize even more the inevitability of its end. That end will come when Chéri, back from World War I, encounters a world that the war has changed through and through. Lost in his memories of time past, he is irremediably lost to the busy present. Paul Eprile’s new translation of these two celebrated novels brings out a vivid sensuality and acute intelligence that past translations have failed to capture.
Colette writes like a fencer, in controlled, impressionistic sallies. . . .Eprile’s exquisite translation catches the glint, now songlike and now savage, of Colette’s sentences, her dialogues filed to a point.
—Yasmine Seale, 4 Columns
Steeped in the hedonism of the noble class, it embraces the splendor of beauty, the excitement of vulgarity, the exquisite brutality of unfettered emotions, parsing through the inner lives of the aging Léa and her lover Chéri with a naked prose not unlike the autofiction of the past years.
— Beatrice Loayza, “Writers on their Favorite Books of 2022,” Bookforum
But Colette’s most marvelous and mature reckonings with age and youth, the newly and gracefully translated Chéri (1920) and The End of Chéri (1926), demonstrate the derangement of infancy extended beyond its natural limits. A woman who refuses to submit to the standard set by the girl grows old with poise, while a perpetually puerile young man remains pitiful forever. Male or female, Colette concludes, an eternal child is doomed to grow grotesque.
—Becca Rothfeld, Bookforum
[Eprile’s translation is] lean and lucid.
—Michael LaPointe, The New Yorker
These portraits of an aging grande horizontale and her beautiful toyboy are the most convincing arguments I know of against political correctness in fiction. Colette never wrote a bad sentence but countless good ones. Paul Eprile has miraculously recreated her in English for our times.
Paul Eprile’s vivid new translation of Chéri and The End of Chéri brings all the savage tenderness of Colette’s two-part masterpiece to life. These great novels of the erosion time wreaks upon desire and the inevitably tragic fate of civilization’s discontents beautifully reflect their moment—from the conclusion of the Belle Époque to the aftermath of the first World War. Yet English language readers today will recognize much of their own world, with its irrevocable chasm between past and present, in these subtle, crystalline, pages.
The two Chéri novellas probably form Colette’s masterpiece. . . They are her masterpieces because they transcend the notion of the battle between the sexes by concentrating on an exceptionally rigorous analysis of the rules of war. . . . The Chéri novels are about the power-politics of love, and Léa and Chéri could be almost any permutation of ages or of sexes. . . . They could both as well be men; or both women.
—Angela Carter, The London Review of Books
Colette was not false, not even when she lied. Once a lie was transformed into fiction it stood as a truth, and survived.
We call her great, for her gift to us is not limited to the art of writing: it is the gift of a culture.
—Rosemary Tonks, The New York Review of Books