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I love a good biography and was so pleased when I found this title about Coco Chanel. I started listening and realized too late that I had made a mistake--this was not a biography. It is instead a fictionalized novel based on the life of Chanel. The story felt overly romanticized and too clean and neat to be the actual telling of a real life. I was left wondering--as I tried to progress with the book--what was true and what was fiction.
I am trying not to review books that I hate and award only one or two stars because it seems so negative and not always helpful. However, in this case I thought it best to point out that this is a work of fiction. To me, reality, history and facts all matter a great deal. What's more, truth is often far more engaging and compelling than fiction. So, if you are looking for the "real" Coco Chanel I would keep searching. Can't recommend.
38 of 45 people found this review helpful
Overall, I can't say I was very excited by Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel. Unlike another reviewer, I was indeed entirely clear when I got this book that it was a work of fiction and could expect plenty of free interpretation, but there could have been many ways to tell her story without making it sound like a Hollywood Romance. Only taking part in France, with French people, who are presumably speaking French to each other. I bring that part up because I am not American and found it very difficult to get into the spirit of things with a narrator who was so emphatically American in her delivery that it made the whole thing slightly surreal to me.
I think in retrospect I would have been better served with a straight biography of Gabrielle aka Coco Chanel. I am not a reader of romance by habit and I like my fiction as free of it as possible, and I certainly never in my life had any curiousity about how Coco Chanel might enjoy her sexual relations or not. I found these passages distracting and annoying and completely unnecessary.
There was little to like about the woman other than her clear determination to be one of the most successful fashion designers of her time. Whatever had to be done to get there, she did it. Here we saw a woman determined to leave her mark on the world, but also incredibly dependent on men and their money to make her place, just as she also presumably strives to remain completely independent. I was curious to see how the author would describe how she fared during the Second World War, as read somewhere a few years ago that she had presumably collaborated with the Nazis, though I had no other information than that. Here, once again, romance comes to the rescue and saves the day between her and her Nazi of choice. He was a 'good' Nazi, you understand, so really she was doing her country a service. She may have been a heartless bitch to her employees, but she was willing to sacrifice herself for a good cause, as long as there was promise of profits in the offing.
Truly, the book got on my nerves and I'm not sure why I stuck to it. I think the fact that it was written in the first person made it especially unpalatable, as this gave us an entirely subjective point of view on the kind of person she was without the benefit of the perspective of what her contemporaries thought of her very much.
Why am I even giving it three stars then? Because the author does a good job of describing the times and places, and as an entertainment, I suppose it was a good story. In fact it came highly recommended by a reviewer I've been following for quite a few years already. She may or may not have said words to the effect that it was a thumping good read. Of course, that is always a highly individual experience.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful