Thursday, 25 August 2016

Book Review: Mademoiselle Chanel

Mademoiselle Chanel:  A Novel

Author:  C. W. Gortner

Publisher:  Harper Collins

ISBN:  978-0-06-240346-9

Retail:  $21.99 (Cdn) paperback

In the historical fiction Mademoiselle Chanel, C. W. Gortner takes the reader on a romp through Coco Chanel's rise from a life of poverty to the toast of Parisian society. Gortner's admiration of his subject is evident as he paints a vivid picture of the famous designer unlocking the stories behind iconic Chanel symbols. He explores her motivation and desire to be the best, unafraid to be different, yet secretly yearning to be accepted.

Chanel is exposed as a ruthless businesswoman and mistress with a soft sensitive side that she fights in order to avoid being used and escape the life her mother lead. Although the question remains if Gortner has successfully solved the mystery that is Coco.  If anything, he has exposed Chanel as the original queen of reinvention.

The book did not satisfy my desire to learn more of Gabrielle Chanel, the designer. Instead it is a romp though her romanic episodes that aid in her rise in the fashion world. Well into reading, I really didn't care for the book as much as I thought that I would. I was hoping to unlock the sensual textures and descriptions of her workroom and fabrics, not her bedroom, which is what I felt I was left with, too many details of Chanel and her lovers, "God know, I want love. But the moment I must choose between a man and my dresses, I choose my dresses" (269-270). But there is little description to illustrate that this is her true passion. This book is not The Pink Suit. Sadly, there is not enough detail of her true love and in doing so, Gortner at times paints Chanel as a woman without passion.

It isn't until the dangers that Chanel faces in war ravaged Paris that the genius behind Gortner's novel is revealed. Just like a exquisite Chanel jacket, the foundation had to be painstaking built and that is what Gortner achieved, bringing everything together. Towards the final chapters, I couldn't put the book down and it was then that I truly appreciated his workmanship.



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