Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Deliciously Decadent

Book two of the Classics challenge started! (Book one still pending.) Due to the fact that The Obscene Bird of Night is not very portable - read: it has a flimsy cover and I don't want to bend it - I've begun reading Cheri by Colette and am enjoying it immensely. It couldn't be a greater contrast with Donoso's prose; Donoso is verbose and employs stream of consciousness across great chunks of text, where Colette is more concise and builds her characters through observations about them as much as revealing their feelings and thoughts directly. Cheri is full of light and people hedonistically pursuing the finer things in life; in Donoso's novel, the characters rattle around empty, dark and dusty halls and make semi-new garments from the unravelled wool of old clothes. Their pleasures are twisted to fit into their warped world and they have no hopes of hedonism whatsoever.

While I'm enjoying both novels, I have to confess that reading about the lives of the rich and idle always fascinates me. Let me put a proviso on that: reading about the lives of the rich and idle from past times fascinates me; otherwise it all gets a bit political. It feels somehow extremely indulgent to be reading about people dressed up in pearls, lounging about in sunny gardens and sipping brandy from 'petal-thin glasses' when I'm shivering in Caffe Nero, wrapped in a ratty old cardigan and slurping hot chocolate from a generic coffee house mug. I suppose it is really escapism - unless one of the characters is completely unbearable, but Colette tempers things with humour and doesn't take her own characters seriously at all. Decadence is just so...decadent. Who wouldn't want to be completely self-indulgent once in a while?

What makes decadence so attractive is the perceived glamour of it - decadence has connotations of wealth, beauty, fine food/jewellery/fashion, the whole charmed life. Moral decay is irrelevant because who needs morals when you have as much money to do as you please? I do sometimes wonder at the recent proliferation of books such as A Girl's Guide To Glamour or The Goddess Guide - books claiming to contain the secret to imparting glamour into one's life, usually by putting an orchid in the bathroom or buying extraordinarily expensive new shoes and keeping them in plastic boxes with a polaroid on the front. It is all about indulgence and image, two things modern women are informed they should aspire to. At times (when I'm shivering in a coffee house and wrapped in a ratty cardi) I can see the attractiveness of the lazy, glamourous life and the point of a not-so-ratty cardi. But really, who has time to put one's shoes into see-through boxes and colour code one's wardrobe? And why is an orchid in the bathroom necessary to feel glamourous? You still wouldn't have time to lounge around drinking brandy and looking stunning, and after buying everything in those books, you definitely wouldn't have the money to support yourself in pursuing such activities! In my opinion, all you really need is a stash of books like Cheri to immerse yourself in all the glamour and all the decadence you could wish for (and much cheaper than those heels).


litlove said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying the Colette. I adore that novel. And I have to agree (being definitely part of the ratty cardi brigade) that reading about glamour pretty much beats having to embody it!

Stefanie said...

What a contrast between the two books you're reading. I'm with you, I'd rather have the old cardigan and shelves of books than expensive shoes and an orchid in my bathroom!

Dorothy W. said...

I like reading about decadence and glamour in books, but I'm not in the least interested in experiencing it myself -- I'd like more money to indulge in some laziness and to make sure I never have to do housecleaning again, otherwise I don't care much. I need to read Cheri!

CoversGirl said...

Make over your life by making over your house: yeah right. You're much better off sticking to the literary kind of glamour. Books are cheap and they never go out of style (and they last longer than orchids, too).