Tuesday, October 02, 2007

David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky

In 1929, 26-year-old Irène Némirovsky shot to fame in France with the publication of her first novel David Golder. At the time, only the most prescient would have predicted the events that led to her extraordinary final novel Suite Française and her death at Auschwitz. Yet the clues are there in this astonishingly mature story of an elderly Jewish businessman who has sold his soul.

Golder is a superb creation. Born into poverty on the Black Sea, he has clawed his way to fabulous wealth by speculating on gold and oil. When the novel opens, he is at work in his magnificent Parisian apartment while his wife and beloved daughter, Joy, spend his money at their villa in Biarritz. But Golder’s security is fragile. For years he has defended his business interests from cut-throat competitors. Now his health is beginning to show the strain. As his body betrays him, so too do his wife and child, leaving him to decide which to pursue: revenge or altruism?

Available for the first time since 1930, David Golder is a page-turningly chilling and brilliant portrait of the frenzied capitalism of the 1920s and a universal parable about the mirage of wealth.

Like most other readers out there, I first heard of Irene Nemirovsky when Suite Francaise was published. Now it seems that the publishers are cashing in on the popularity of that book, er....I mean taking the opportunity to let us become acquainted with some of the author's earlier books that originally propelled her to fame in France in the late 1920s and 1930s.

David Golder is a self made man. He started out living in a small town on the Black Sea, dirt poor, but determined to make something of himself, regardless of how many people he must trample on his way to top. And he has. He is now one of richest men in Paris, married to a beautiful socialite wife, with a beautiful socialite daughter. He is however unhappy, and when things start to go wrong with his health, and he is no longer unable to wheel and deal, the money runs out, and it is suddenly clear to Golder just how alone he really is. Even his wife and daughter desert him to a degree. When he needs to make just one more deal, his life comes full circle as he once again finds himself in that same small town on the Black Sea.

A lot of the characters in this book are not particularly likable, but Nemirovsky does give them shades of unlikeability and a certain depth that keeps you interested and reading. It also doesn't hurt that the book is quite short meaning that it is a somewhat concise study of a man who appears to have everything, but may well in fact have nothing worth having!

The version I read was beautifully presented as a small hardcover book, and it even had one of those ribbons that you can use to mark your page that you don't often see any more . It was such a pleasant surprise when I realised that it was there, and despite the fact that it is a really small thing about the quality of the presentation, it did enhance my enjoyment of this book! Yes....I know....small things and all that!

Having now read two of her books, it seems to me that the authors personal story remains more compelling than her books, even though her books are definitely readable. I was interested to read somewhere the other day that they have discovered another unpublished work by this author called The Fire in the Blood, and that it is going to be published shortly. It goes almost without saying that I have my name down on the request list!

Rating 4/5

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