It is interesting that I should plunge straight into this story after reading Edith Wharton’s ‘Ethan Frome’. I picked this up in the library; Irène Némirovsky novels becoming a bit of a sensation after lost manuscripts hidden and deposited with friends during WWII resurfaced recently to be published to great acclaim, including the wonderful masterpiece ‘Suite Française’ which I very much enjoyed and also recommend.
I found a similarly themed story of the consequence of forbidden love, the bind of marriage and sacrifice, only this is a Ukrainian born French woman writer, so in accordance with cultural differences, as discussed in the recently reviewed ‘La Seduction’, in this story there is less holding back, the suffering occurs on account of having indulged the emotion rather than from refraining in following it through and burying it deep.
The title ‘Fire in the Blood’ could be said to be an apt theme in both novels, though Ethan’s fire was dampened somewhat in its manifestation, through societal expectations and the cooling effect of a frigid New England winter. It is a reference to youth and daring, the thing that can incite recklessness.
We enter the lives of a family in Issy-l’Evêque, a village where young women marry to escape their circumstances, where
everyone lives in his own house, on his own land, distrusts his neighbours, harvests his wheat, counts his money and doesn’t give a thought to the rest of the world.
The narrator Silvio, is a man who observes the young and recalls his own restless and chequered youth, he is reminded how little things change yet how impossible that was to accept back then, especially when one had fire running through the veins. He watches events unfold and resists involvement as slowly the implications of his own youthful behaviour are revealed.
Irène Némirovsky’s family fled the Russian revolution in 1918 when she was a teenager and she became a bestselling novelist in France until forced to hide out with her husband and two daughters in the village at the centre of this novel during the 1940 German occupation. She was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where she died in 1942. Her daughters remained in hiding and survived and it is thanks to them and the efforts of Némirovsky’s biographers, that her previously unpublished manuscripts are now being read.
The story of Irène Némirovsky’s life and the gift of her manuscripts are as compelling as her fiction, now experiencing a deserving revival in French and in English.
Do you have a favourite French author?