Colette wrote lyrical vignettes that describe her unconventional country childhood and her beloved mother, the Sido of the title of My Mother’s House & Sido. It is a collection rich in sensuous detail, mirroring the delight in nature and the keen observance Colette inherited from her mother. She writes of endless flowers in a much-cultivated garden and of Sido’s reluctance to cut them as ornaments for a neighbor’s funeral. She recounts meals, tastes and textures so faithfully a reader longs for the simple, natural breads, creams and country dishes of a past era.
Her eye captures the shimmer and hue of every fabric and her quick mind conjures the private motivations of neighbors, big brothers and the mysterious and indulgent parents who allowed her to grow up unfettered and a little wild, secure in her own choices and observations. It was an ideal childhood for a writer and Colette adds to the fairytale quality by idealizing what may have been very pedestrian events and the deprivations of a family out of fortune. She felt rich, her mother was certain of their abundance and the child exulted in her experience. Apparently, she never forgot a thing.
The second section of the book, Sido, deals in more depth with Colette’s father, a war veteran who adored his wife but was frustrated in his business dealings. After his death, the children discovered that a shelf of carefully matched volumes in his library was meant to hold his own books, all named on their spines, but was filled with beautiful blank pages instead. The Colette siblings—Colette was the family name of Sidonie Gabrielle Colette—were a headstrong and quirky lot. One brother became a doctor, another was a prodigiously gifted musician who preferred his solitude and silence to a career, an older sister kept her distance from the rest and married badly. Colette was the younger of the two children from her mother’s second marriage, and the baby, so she had Sido’s complete attention and the benefit of her considerable country wisdom.
Colette is such a wonderful writer that these bits are compelling and entertaining, even though they don’t follow a story arc and appear to be random musings. My Mother’s House & Sido evokes a lost world that seeped into the consciousness of a prolific writer, along with the scents, sights and sounds associated with an idyllic childhood and the woman at the center of Colette’s early memories.
My Mother’s House and Sido Colette | Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1995