Gigi and The Cat by the acclaimed French writer, Colette, are two novellas published together by Vintage and I read them as part of Women in Translation Month.
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What is this book about?
Gigi and The Cat consists of two stories: one is titled Gigi and the other, The Cat. Translated from French, both the stories adeptly capture the vivacity of the fin de siecle in Paris.
Gigi is about the eponymous protagonist, ebullient girl of 15, dictated by her grandmamma who lavishly rains on her several rules of how to behave like a woman. Both her grandmamma and mother think that she is a simple, childish, naive girl who is unable to understand the intricacies of class and its politics. However, when an admirable suitor, Gaston Lachaille, confesses his love to her, Gigi or Gilberte, employs her own tactic of figuring out how to handle the situation, breaking away from her grandmother and mother’s advice.
La Chatte or in English, The Cat, is a much more complex story narrated in rich, detailed prose. The Cat outlines the love of the protagonist, Alain, towards his beautiful cat, Saha. The story then unravels how his marriage to Camille Malmert affects Saha and Alain’s relation with Saha. The story takes a plunge into Alain’s thoughts and emotions toward Saha, Camille, and his life in general, especially his deep love for the house he grew up in. Alain’s love for Saha is clear in the way he fondly calls out her name (with an aspirated ‘h’) and behaves with her ever so lovingly. His instinct toward Saha and his ability to know her inside out irks Camille to a certain extent, though she does try to come to terms with the cat.
What ensues is a complex, psychological tale of establishing a sense of belonging among all the three main characters.
One last reason to pick it up?
I will give you two: the prose and the cats!
While the first story, Gigi, focuses on the plot elaborated by sketches of quirky characters, particularly, Gaston; the second story relies more on both: delicately crafted prose that aptly brings out Alain’s love for Saha, as well as the psychological depth that captures the observant bent in him particularly for Camille.
Though the one thing that irks me in the latter are a few stereotypes associated with women (such as women being each other’s enemies) that can be ignored because of the time it was written in, yet are still a little bit hard to digest.
However, if we ignore that; along with the beautiful, lush prose that captures the materialistic details as well as the conscious details of Alain’s mind, the story, The Cat, is an immensely pleasurable read for any cat lover (which I am!) and this story shows how a man’s love for his pet cat defines his life and his relationships with those around him, which is very different from the stereotype of how only women (especially spinster women) love cats!
Read my Top 5 books features cats here!