Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book Review: Coco Chanel & Stravinsky

Can you tell I'm on vacation? It is the only time during the year when I have time to read a book. So it is my ritual to find a book at the airport (I usually forget to get one before I leave) and read it while away. This time was no exception and it also relates to sewing (sort of). Yay!

The novel is based on a fictionalized story of the famous french couture designer and her love affair with the composer, Igor Stravinsky. Chanel, after humble beginnings and climbing her way to the top of her profession, becomes a patron of Stravinsky and offers him and his family lodging in her newly purchased home outside of Paris. The famous composer and his family have been exiled from their homeland of Russia. Chanel and Stravinsky start a love affair under the same roof as his wife, who is ill with consumption, and his four children, while working on each of their own crafts. The book is set during the summer of the affair, which ends with the coming of winter, Chanel's boredom with Stravinsky, and her new attraction a Russian Duke. This also coincides with with the removal of Stravinsky's wife and children. I would also leave if I was living in the same house as my husband and his mistress, can you blame her?

There were a few good scenes, but they definitely seemed like they were created for a movie, which of course, it was turned into. Actually I am not sure which came first, since it was written in fact by the screen writer, and may have ben written in order to get that end. We do get to see a young Chanel in her first debut in society, with a fantastic description of her dress. We also see her create her infamous scent, which I could have written. It was incredibly predictable. There is just a glimmer of her in her shop, as a designer and as a business woman. Slightly unfortunate in my opinion.

image from film also book cover image (more of the dress is better)

What I wish had there had been more of is her sewing. But, duh, right? There was a description of her work room with piles of fabric, trims and muslins, which made me drool just a little. There are a few scenes that we see her actually sewing, but they weren't written well enough to make me love them. She does have a nice speech about why she uses jersey and her reasoning behind her designs, and we do see one scene of her actual draping a model for a dress. But it is brief, any again, only fairly written and left me wanting more.

Lastly let me say that I bought this book at the Baltimore airport and finished before arriving in San Antonio, Texas. So in roughly four hours it was a done deal. Am I a fast reader? Maybe, but I think it was due more to the fact that the print was larger than normal, and it wasn't a particularly difficult read.

All in all, I was mildly impressed by this book. The writing was okay at best. I haven't seen the movie (also looks not too promising), and I imagine there isn't much difference except for the visuals of all the costumes, which may be enough to save it. I would recommend this book for exactly the reason I bought it — if you need a book to occupy your time, since you are stuck on an airplane, by all means purchase this book. Otherwise I would leave it on the shelf. If you are still intrigued after this review, let me know and I will send you my copy :)

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