Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 2 - Chanel: An Intimate Life By Lisa Chaney
Well, to be precise, I had only abandoned one book till this year, when I gave up reading Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney at Page 189. I am not proud of this fact, but at least I didn't throw the book away. That would have been rather ungracious on my part, as Chanel: An Intimate Life was a complimentary copy from the publishers, Penguin. I must say it looks rather well on my antique bookcase, which dates in fact from Coco Chanel's era. It has a nifty quilted-effect dust jacket, and is one of the best dressed spines on its shelf (spot the other perfume-themed books in the close up lower down!).
So why did I give up on this book, given my usually conscientious nature in all things? Well, quite simply, it is a very pronounced case of TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Now I don't mean by that that there are titillating details of Coco Chanel's love life, as it wasn't as "intimate" as all that, not that I am particularly shockable in that regard. If anything, the numerous colourful euphemisms for "prostitute" which pepper the book are its standout highlight, "croqueuses de diamants" and "grandes horizontales" being my personal favourites.
No, what I mean by "too much information" is quite literally that. Rachel Cooke writes in her review of the book in The Observer: "there is no doubting Chaney's tenacity as a researcher....But there is something desultory about her narrative, and she sometimes struggles to say what she means." I take her point about the lacklustre pace of the action, which does feel long and drawn out much of the time, but for me the nub of the problem is simply the fact that there is so much detail about Chanel's life - the book is about 450 pages long - that I am just not interested to know.
Hey, I am not even interested in knowing that much about my own life.
Yes, I shot my atttention span not long after the death of Coco's lover, Boy Capel, in a car accident in the South of France, a strand of the biography that interested me more than most. However, by Page 189, just as we were about to be introduced to Dimitri Pavlovich, something snapped and I put the book down for good. Turns out that Pavlovich was another lover, so that might have been an absorbing interlude for all I know, but I am afraid I was "biographied out" at that point. Minutiae overload. And it was only 1921.
So in summary, if you are fascinated by the life of Coco Chanel to a level way, way beyond a passing interest in the woman who founded the iconic fashion and perfume house that bears her name, this painstakingly researched biography may be the very ticket. Sadly, in my case it was just a source of personal anguish at my lack of staying power and all-round flitter-readerness.
For the sake of good order, here is a link to Olfacta of Olfactarama's take on this book, which I had deliberately not read until now. It tells you some more about the coverage of the book, and as much about Olfacta's strength of character as that of Coco Chanel, because Olfacta clearly made it to the end...