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…”
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.