Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

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.

Moulin à Eau by Madeleine Merlin

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in hiding and survived and it is thanks to them and the efforts of Némirovsky’s biographers, that her previously unpublished manuscripts are now being read.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?

18 thoughts on “Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

  1. “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.”

    You write really, really well. Not enough bloggers (in fact, very few) engage with the metaphorscapes of the novels they write about – it’s refreshing to encounter someone unafraid of more abstract/creative analysis. Great review – This has been recommended to me countless times by countless people, but I’m still to read it. I also had no idea that her books had such a convoluted textual provenance. The journey/biography of the manuscripts themselves would probably make an interesting book!


    • Thanks Tomcat, that is high praise indeed, your writing is a total inspiration to me. I have much to learn about its analysis, but I do love metaphor.

      You are right, the story of the hidden manuscripts and the fact that her daughters did not read their content for more than 50 years is fascinating in itself. I have just added her biography which I believe documents more of her story to my reading wish list.


  2. Tomcat’s comments about your writing say much more than I might attempt. Your reviews are a joy. I loved Suite Francaise and Irene’s story is remarkable in itself. Eh bien – another addition to my towering TBR pile!


  3. Fascinating story about the author and how her manuscripts were published. I will put her books, especially this one, on my reading list. I suppose my favorite French author is Victor Hugo, but I’m afraid I am not familiar with a great many of them. Time to explore more! Thanks for the informative review.


    • It’s small compensation for not attempting to read them in french for me, I have read one Victor Hugo ‘Ninety Three’ (Quatrevingt-treize) a reference to 1793 and the french revolution, I was under pressure to read it before going with a friend to see the play, in french – am I glad I read the book first, I would have been totally lost otherwise. I am not sure it is indicative of his works, but it was his last novel.

      I liked Jean Giono’s, ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ and have another of his on my TBR pile. Thanks for commenting Carol.


  4. I think it’s clear that we’re on parallel reading tracks, Claire. I read ‘Suite Francaise’ when it first came out, intrigued as I was at the story behind the book. I found it a fascinating novel. Have not yet caught up with ‘Fire in the Blood,’ though I have every intention of reading it. I’ll respond to your question re: favorite French authors with a favorite French book –I needed no excuse, other than a new translation of ‘Madame Bovary’ by Lydia Davis, to reread this classic and, again, loving it. Lastly, it never fails to amaze me that certain books call out to us at certain times, something hinted at here in your choice of Irène Némirovsky on the heels of Edith Wharton. Right now I’m reading ‘A Long Fatal Love Chase’ by Louisa May Alcott. I’ll take the liberty of linking you to an essay I posted this week that alludes to the timing of this uncanny choice.


    • I think ‘Madame Bovary’ was the first work by a french writer read, I read it in the months before I moved to live in France and I loved it. I hadn’t realised that Flaubert was so adept at seeing through metaphor and I love this kind of writing, it was almost a shock as I braced myself for a challenging read and found complete joy as I immersed myself in it. I must read it again, thanks for the reminder.
      Thank you for your link and I agree, the path of books that follow on from each is an interesting one, full of little connections and relevancies to life.


  5. Ooo, this sounds like a really good book. I have a stack so high of “to read” books right now! But this one should be added. Love your reviews.

    Thank you for stopping by The Big Green Bowl! It is good to “see” you again.


    • It’s great that they are all coming out in English and enjoying such popularity, I think they provide an interesting cultural perspective on the age old domestic dilemmas that we always return to. I loved observing the differences between her characters and Edith Wharton’s and wondered what a conversation between the two women might have been like.


  6. Pingback: A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen – Word by Word

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