The Tendrils of the Vine – Colette (Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century #59)

This is part of a series of occasional posts where I look at works from Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century.  Please see the separate page (link at the top) for the full list of books and an explanation of why I would do such a thing.

When I first started this challenge, I thought it would never be complete as I have commitment issues Wikipedia told me that Tendrils of the Vine had never been translated.  Yesterday in my favourite charity bookshop (handily located across the road from my flat, so I don’t have to stagger far with my heavy loads/nightmarishly located across the road from my flat – if you had a problem with drug addiction you wouldn’t live opposite a crack den) I picked up a huge volume of The Collected Stories of Colette for £3.50, and was very excited to see Tendrils of the Vine translated within it (by Herma Briffault – and I see Wiki no longer makes its fallacious claim).

In fact , Tendrils of the Vine, proclaimed A Fable in the title, is only 1000 words long and I may have been able to struggle through with my appalling French.  The difficulty is, being only 1000 words long, I really can’t say too much about it without spoilers, so this will be an uncharacteristically short post from me 🙂

The story begins in typical fable fashion, describing how the nightingale got his song:

“While he slept, the vine’s gimlet feelers – those imperious and clinging tendrils whose sharp taste, like that of fresh sorrel, acts a stimulant and slakes the thirst, began to grow  so thickly during the night that the bird woke up to find himself bound fast, his feet hobbled in strong withes, his wings powerless…”

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The nightingale escapes, and sings relentlessly to keep himself awake through the Spring,  thereby avoiding the terrors of the vine.  I can’t say much more, except Colette then expands this into a truly creepy and oppressive tale. The fact that she does this in 1000 words within a pastoral fabulistic setting makes it like a short, sharp punch to the sternum. What a writer – I’m looking forward to reading the rest of my newly-acquired tome.

Colette, who when she wasn't writing, sat around being awesome

Colette, who when she wasn’t writing, sat around being awesome

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18 thoughts on “The Tendrils of the Vine – Colette (Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century #59)

  1. Oh man, secondhand books across the road? that’d be me staring into happy bankruptcy. I have a short story collection of Colette’s (I should really give it back), I’ll see if this is in it, and if not read one or two of the others. I do love Colette, how cool is she in that photograph? Just when I thought I’d never take up smoking! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It transpires that secretive talks are in full throttle with Keira Knightley tipped to play Colette in a biopic by the producers of “Carol”. I hope they decide to film it in Paris – would put a tent up in the Palais Royal if so – or a grand reading of Colette could be organised in the gardens as a fitting tribute?

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    • Colette is reasonably well-known (especially once Gigi was made into a film), but I don’t think this is one of her best known stories, at least in English. I’m sorry I can’t give more of a sense of what it is about, but its so short I’d end up spoiling the whole thing!

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  3. The fact it’s a charity crack den makes all the difference, so never feel guilty. And they’ve even thoughtfully made it a clean indoor location for you, as opposed to having to stand at a bus stop waiting for a dodgy geezer on a stolen mountain bike to thrust a novel in your hand before cycling away stuffing your cash into his pocket.

    Liked by 1 person

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