Cheri by Colette (1920)
Colette (full name: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) was the ultimate literary renegade who both outraged and intoxicated turn-of-the-century Paris with her technicoloured personal life. She was an author, a poet, a memoirist, a feminist icon and a prolific journalist who trapezed between all manner of subjects from trench warfare to domestic abuse, fashion to faking orgasms.
But her novels are what have best withstood the tests of time, and Cheri was her masterpiece about a beautiful ageing courtesan’s affair with a gorgeous but selfish much-younger man. In a review in 1929, TIME magazine described her style as ‘distinguished for presenting the human side of animals, the animal side of humans.’ It is a sumptuous tale of repression, scandal, sex and desire that rattled Parisian society by the bed boards, not least because it was one of the first novels of its kind to celebrate female sexuality as it ages.