All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky

This is the second novel I picked up from the library, the first being ‘Fire in the Blood’ a tale of the consequence of indulging forbidden love. ‘All Our Worldly Goods’ has a similar theme but with different circumstances and this is more a story of what happened in the early 1990’s to those who preferred to make their own decisions regarding matrimony rather than follow the sage advice of their parents or in this case Grandfather. It is also a prelude to Némirovsky’s masterpiece ‘Suite Francaise’.

This is an era where marrying for love can be serious enough an outrage to find oneself disinherited. When there is only one son and heir and the family fortunes are dwindling, it is necessary that said son marries a woman with a significant and esteemed dowry. Pierre Hardelot follows his heart rather than his head and becomes estranged from his family just before being conscripted into the army to fight in the First World War.

Returning to the ruins of home © IWM (B7688)

With the onset of war, their families are forced to abandon the village, some fleeing by car, others on foot, only to eventually return to ruins, which they set about rebuilding in the hope that something as horrific and terrible as this war they have experienced can never be repeated.

However history has a habit of repeating itself, and so it does in both love and war. Another generation and an heiress banished by her family due to long standing interfamily resentments, and another son called up to war.  Fortunately death, destruction and shared traumatic experiences can provide the necessary ingredients for forgiveness, especially when strong, capable, male resources become a scarce commodity.

It is an interesting story depicting the lead up to the forced evacuations by families from the cities and provinces to find safety from the advancing invading armies, though it is dealt with lightly and there is nothing of the terror that one assumes must have consumed Némirovsky herself, knowing what her own family went through. In this story we are never confronted with the invaders and neither do we have a very real feeling for how war must have changed Pierre.

First published in 1947, five years after her death at Auschwitz, this book can now seen in context with the more recently published collection of Némirovsky’s works, unearthed by her biographers.

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?