Tag Archives: Biographies

Reading notes 2 – Feat. Edmund de Waal, Kazuro Ishiguro and Juli Zeh

A little while ago I did this post of mini reviews which I found rather a good way of catching up with myself. Sometimes a girl is rushing around so much she realises she’s read lots of books that she hasn’t gotten around to reviewing yet!

I don’t know about you but I find it’s quite therapeutic jotting down thoughts in shorthand sometimes. Here are those virtual post-it’s again…

The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal

3.5 stars3.5/5

Synopsis: 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined.

Dark Matter, by Juli Zeh

4 stars4/5

Sebastian and Oskar have been friends since their days studying physics at university, when both were considered future Nobel Prize candidates. But after graduation, their lives took very different paths; while Oskar holds a prestigious research post in Geneva, Sebastain worries that he hasn’t lived up to his intellectual promise, having chosen marriage and fatherhood as an exit strategy. A few days after a particularly heated argument between the two men, Sebastian leaves his son sleeping in the back seat while he goes into a service station. When he returns, the car has disappeared without trace. His phone rings and a voice informs him that in order to get his son back he must kill a man. As Sebastian’s life unravels, the only person he can safely reach out to is Oskar…

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro

3 stars3/5

In a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. From the piazzas of Italy to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the ‘hush-hush floor’ of an exclusive Hollywood hotel, the characters we encounter range from young dreamers to cafe musicians to faded stars, all of them at some moment of reckoning. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

*dusting off hands* Well that’s my little wrap up for the week!

Have you read any of these books. Did you find The Hare with the Amber Eyes what you expected? Have you been lulled by Ishiguro’s short stories or baffled by Juli Zeh’s physics-themed murder mystery?

French Fancy? – Thoughts on the Chanel Biography and Film

On a recent library trip I spotted the Chanel Biography Chanel, her Life, Her World, The Woman Behind the Legend by Edmonde Charles-Roux.

Chanel Biography by Edmonde Charles-Roux

I love fashion and I have always admired the beauty and classic femininity of ‘Coco’ Gabrielle Chanel’s designs so I decided to read it. I don’t usually choose biographies, possibly because there are very few famous personalities that inspire me to want to know every detail about their lives so I must admit that I started the book with some trepidation… and in fact didn’t finish it.

My not finishing the biography has less to do with the quality of the writing and content and more to do with my impatience to watch the film Coco Avant Chanel which I ordered from Love Film and had been waiting to be watched for more than two weeks. One hundred and fifty pages into the biography I gave in to the appeal of Audrey Tautou and a two-hour film instead.

The book

Edmonde Charles-Roux’s biography really is well written and gives an unexpected insight into Gabrielle Chanel’s childhood, her youth and development into the woman and icon she became. I think that it is fair to say that when one thinks of the House of Chanel, one thinks of luxury and expensive tailoring so it might surprise readers to learn that Gabrielle was in fact born into a poor peasant family in a French backwater in 1881, dumped into an orphanage and had to fight her way to escape obscurity, dabbling in a singing career (where she got the name ‘Coco’). She even a wealthy man’s mistress before bucking the trend for frou-frou by creating simple and chic hats for a living. The rest, as they say, is history. Against the odds and the restraints her gender imposed on her at that time,  she became the head of a vast business empire where she socialised with the likes of Picasso and Stravinsky.

What Charles-Roux does exceptionally well in the biography is to humanise Gabrielle. He really digs into her background in great depth to really understand how her past experiences influenced her approach to fashion. He paints a critical portrait of her balancing her faults (a tendency to embroider the truth) by showing the reasons why and also how they made her unique. The overall impression that I got was that Gabrielle was a fascinating and complex woman who would have been difficult to get to know but whose values were reflected in her designs.

“Adopting one of Gabrielle’s creations was like crowning yourself with a riddle, and it also involved learning to be attractive by going against the stream.”

Influenced by a love of things English (including her patron and lover ‘Boy’ Arthur Capel) and by military style and practical riding clothes, Gabrielle found ways to bring out the natural shape of the female form without constricting it at a time when corsets and feathers were the norm. She chose to wear black and crisp white shirts as well as, shock-horror…trousers, when other women were adorned in garish colours and huge skirts . An audacious and truly forward-thinking woman who wore what felt good, yet was stylish and encouraged other women to do the same.

The Film

So, although I didn’t finish the biography, I did learn a great deal from it. It was a little too detailed for me, but I think that Coco Avant Chanel which was based on it benefited from this greatly. The film was really quite wonderful to watch, and Audrey Tautou really was the Gabrielle Chanel of my imagination from reading the book, but even better – on screen, in cinematic glory! The film only touches on the orphanage and doesn’t set the scene of the family background in great depth which I thought actually worked well as this was a bit too much for me when reading the book. I was impressed at how much it brought out the behaviour of Gabrielle as described by Charles-Roux – the fibbing, her tom-boyish attitude.

Of course the film is also totally gorgeous to watch. Fashion is a visual thing, so seeing images of the dresses and designs contrasted on-screen was brilliant. I also thought what the film did well was to make her character even warmer, playing on her relationships with Etienne Balsan (her rich lover) and Arthur Capel who as a self-made man really seemed to understand her as well as her sister whose promising love-interests repeatedly left her high and dry.

Finally, one thing that struck me both in the film and when reading the book was how amazing it must have been for Gabrielle Chanel to have lived through such different time periods from the late 19th Century right through to 1971 and how impressively contemporary she remained right through to modern times.

The biography(at least the first half!) is excellent, however I think it is probably more suited to people who really want to know everything about Chanel in-depth with a bit of a historical perspective. I thought that the film was utterly enjoyable and would recommend it highly. It does move at a reasonably slow pace but is beautiful and engaging all the way through.

I think only you will know if you would be interested in this but for me I found the story of Coco Chanel fascinating and inspiring.

Who has inspired you (real or imagined) lately?

Booking Through Thursday – It’s All About ME!

Booking Through Thursday

This weeks BTT Question is:

Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of factual writing so I don’t read many autobiographies. I think it would depend very much on

a) If the personality was still alive – yes I would prefer to read their Autobiography

b) If I thought they were a bad writer / would give an un-informative version of events – no I would prefer to read a Biography.

What I’d really prefer would be a semi-fictional account by a brilliant writer – for example I very much enjoyed Peter Cary’s True History of the Kelly Gang because of the quality of writing and storytelling. The one biography that has piqued my interest lately is thisMuriel Spark Biography - Martin Stannard Muriel Spark Biographyby Martin Stannard but it’s in hardcover so I may have to wait until it be comes a bargain or comes out in paperback!

Do you read (auto)biographies? If you do, what do you enjoy about them. Do you think I should try reading more or should I stick to fiction?