Review of ‘Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky’ by Chris Greenhalgh

This novel about two very interesting pioneers, fashion designer Chanel and composer Stravinsky, sounded promising. It turned out to be a rather ugly book.

Book cover of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, showing the two actors in the film adaptation.

Presented as a flashback at Coco Chanel’s death, the narrative follows an affair that she had with Stravinsky in 1920. He and his family were staying at her house in France, having been exiled from Russia. Coco develops her signature perfume, No.5, while Igor composes works of genius. The blurb makes this sound rather wonderful, but doesn’t mention that Igor’s wife, Catherine, was ill with tuberculosis and confined to bed at the time. Catherine is the only character the reader feels sympathy for, as the others are presented very unfavourably. The perspective is also a problem, as the paragraphs leap to how several different characters are feeling in an unsophisticated attempt at omniscient narration. The chapters should perhaps have alternated between Coco’s and Igor’s perspectives. I couldn’t help feeling that the book would work better as non-fiction. The author had certainly done a lot of research, as evidenced by the excellent timeline at the end, but not much of biographical significance appeared in the story. It was mostly a lot of unnecessary symbolism, creative yet ridiculous similes, odd word choices and a lack of maturity in the writing style, for example that a character ‘feels hurt’ or ‘feels upset’. I’m sure that some readers will enjoy the style but reading this as a writer, it made a poor impression.

The book was first published in 2003 as Coco and Igor; this new edition was published in 2009 by Riverhead to tie in with the film adaptation, which I haven’t seen.

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