The plot follows the aftermath of the separation of Chéri, a young playboy, and his lover of six years, the much older courtesan Léa de Lonval. The two believe their relationship is casual until they are separated by Chéri's marriage, at which point they realize they are in love. The novel then deals with the broken couple's efforts to come to terms with this realization and to move on with their lives, until one night Chéri turns up on Léa's doorstep again.
Tropes associated with this work:
- Affectionate Nickname: "Chéri", the main character's eponymous nickname, seems to have started as this, since it means "darling" in French. Subverted in that by the time of the events of the novel, it has become his near-universal nickname rather than a term of endearment used by a few.
- Arranged Marriage: Chéri and Edmée's marriage was arranged by their mothers. Interestingly, not even Léa and Chéri see any problems with this initially.
- Art Nouveau: The style of Léa's elegant house. Especially noteworthy is her bed.
- Conspicuous Consumption: Madame Peloux's mansion in the 2009 film is filled to the brim with expensive objects. The set designer even points out that he meant for the furnishings to be overwhelming: her tables are covered by two tablecloths, her drapes have two fringes and she has crystal and furs in her greenhouse/terrace. It's a house suffocated by objects, in contrast with Léa's Simple, yet Opulent tastes.
- Costume Porn: The 2009 film adaptation boasts splendid costumes.
- Downer Ending: The lovers never reunite, and Chéri commits suicide many years after, once he realizes that he lost the only woman he had ever truly loved.
- Good Bad Girl / Ethical Slut: Léa is an aging courtesan with a preference for much younger men. Yet not only does she genuinely care for Chéri, but she's also ready to renounce her own feelings and let him go out of an interest in his well-being and even some compassion for his young wife. Ironically, on the morning of their last night together, Chéri confesses that this is exactly why he loves Léa, implying that it would be impossible for him to continue loving her the same way if she did let him abandon his wife for her, which is what drives Léa to finally send him away for good.
- High-Class Call Girl: Léa de Lonval is a retired kept woman.
- Hope Spot: After a long period of absence, Chéri returns with presents and tries to fix his relationship with his wife. She is overjoyed, but it does not last because he cannot get over his true love.
- Marital Rape License: In the film. There is some ambiguity but Chéri is brutal to the innocent and naive Edmee on their wedding night, and she is shown crying out in pain during sex.
- MayDecember Romance: At the beginning of their relationship, Chéri is only 19, while Léa is 43. Their relationship is initially casual until separation makes them realize their feelings are stronger.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Chéri's real name is Fred Peloux, but his wife Edmée is pretty much the only one who uses it.
- Parental Neglect: Both Chéri and his wife consider themselves orphans, and bond a little over it. Their fathers are not present in their lives, and their mothers are emotionally neglectful. Edmee's mother literally ran into the arms of her new client on her daughter's wedding day, the second they finished taking the official photos in front of the church.
- A Threesome Is Hot: The title character in the 2009 film adaptation is strongly implied to have had a threesome the previous night, at the beginning of the movie; two naked women are clearly visible in the bed he's getting out of.