Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island by Colette

A year ago, I did a little post here to celebrate the birthday of the French author, Colette – a long-time favourite of mine, and an author whose works I’m always happy to revisit. I spent chunks of my twenties reading everything of hers which had been translated into English, catching up with a few books I’d missed in more recent years. So I was absolutely delighted to discover that a new collection of previously untranslated pieces was coming out and even more delighted when Middle Child presented it to me for Christmas!


“Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island” is translated by Zack Rogow and Renee Morel, and published by Excelsior Editions. The blurb lauds the translation as rendering Colette in idiomatic English; I was perhaps vaguely worried about this, hoping that the prose wouldn’t sound too different from the translations I was used to, but I needn’t have been concerned – Colette’s individual voice shines through with her wonderful phraseology and robust viewpoint. The translation reads beautifully apart from the occasional jarring error (broach pin, anyone???) and the book is incredibly readable.

SOATI contains short pieces, some only a page, some running to four or five, and covers the gamut of her work; from stories (many more or less autobiographical), through problem page answers, biographical sketches, music hall tales, advertising pieces and musings on life and living. Her responses to nature and animals are always intense and enjoyable, particularly her dogs and cats, and she can conjure up the atmosphere of Crecy Forests in such luminous prose:

The wind dies down under this tent of trees, where the air barely sways, heavy, musky. A soft waves of fragrance guides my steps toward wild strawberries, round as pearls, which ripen here in seconds, blacken, tremble and fall, dissolve slowly in a sweet, raspberried decay whose aroma mingles with a greenish honeysuckle, sticky with honey, and with a round of white mushrooms. They were born this very might, and their heads lift the crackling carpet of leaves and twigs. They are the fragile and matt white of new gloves, pearly, moist as a lamb’s nose; their fragrance evokes fresh truffles and tuberoses.

With a lesser writer, you might be forgiven for thinking that a book like this is just a case of scraping around at the bottom of the barrel for unused bits of writing. But with Colette, even the shortest, page-long piece is studded with gems of wit and wisdom, pithy and pungent points that have you thinking for days afterwards. There’s never a wasted word with Colette – her writing is just a joy and I would happily read every single thing she wrote.

Colette as she was known under her married name at the time of publishing the Claudine books

Colette as she was known under her married name at the time of publishing the Claudine books

If you love Colette and her writing, you need to have this book. If you’ve never read her, you have so many treats in store. This isn’t necessarily the ideal book to start reading this wonderful writer, but once you’ve fallen under her spell, you’ll definitely want to go out and get it! Probably my favourite Christmas gift so far….. πŸ™‚