Any biography of the celebrated French author of Gigi, ChÆ’ri, and the Claudine novels would have to be replete with juicily scandalous detail. This entry, covering the first half of her life, does not disappoint. Colette's novels of the demimonde and Parisian cafÆ’ society were noteworthy for both their high quality and their autobiographical content. Her numerous marriages, and her hetero and lesbian affairs, provided Colette with a subject and a lifestyle that made her one of the notorious fin-de-siÃ©cle celebrities. Francis and Gontier (co-authors of Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, A Love Story, 1987, etc.) sift through rumor, legend, and shadowy fact to piece together a life that would cause modern jet-setters to blanch, perhaps. Colette's contention that she had black ancestors has usually been dismissed by her biographers as a literary conceit--as yet another example of her self-promotional efforts. Here, though, the authors dig deep to follow her maternal lineage to a black grandfather from Martinique. They also make great strides at dispelling Colette's bitter late-career assertion that she was bullied into writing by her first husband, the publishing scion Henry Gauthier-Villara. Known as Willy, he was a leading literary figure of the day and, in fact, collaborated with his wife on dozens of novels, essays, and plays. He also gave her syphilis. Colette and Willy both conducted numerous affairs, she (notably) with the Marquise de Moray. Known as ""France's most notorious cross-dresser,"" Missy, as she was called, and Colette staged a pantomime that summoned the police. Colette's oeuvre remains of mild interest. Colette the woman is eternally fascinating.