Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

Here is a missing piece of the remarkable posthumous legacy of Irene Nemirovsky, author of the internationally acclaimed Suite Francaise.

Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and a friend when the author was sent to her death at Auschwitz. The novel - only now assembled in its entirety - teems with the intertwined lives of an insular French village in the years before the war, when "peace" was less important as a political state than as a coveted personal condition: the untroubled pinnacle of happiness.

At the centre of the tale is Silvio: in his younger years he fled the boredom of the village and made a life of travel and adventure. Now he's returned, living in a farmer's hovel in the middle of the woods, and, much to his family's chagrin, perfectly content with his solitude.

But when he attends the wedding of his favourite young cousin - "she has the thing that, when I was young, I used to value most in women: she has fire" - Silvio begins to be drawn back into the complicated life of this small town. As his narration unfolds, we are given an intimate picture of the loves and infidelities, the scandals, the youthful ardor and regrets of age that tie Silvio to the long-guarded secrets of the past.

Nemirovsky wrote with a crystalline understanding of the pretensions and protection of society, and of the varied workings of the human heart, in language as evocative of a vanished era as of the emotional and moral ambiguities in her characters' lives. All of which was evident in Suite Francaise - and abundantly evident again in this powerful, passionate novel.
Life in a small town has long been a favourite topic amongst novelists, and this is Irene Nemirovsky's take on the secrets within a small town in rural France, and within a family.

The main narrator is Silvio. As a young man he had felt restricted by life in his small home town and had spent many years travelling. Now, he lives in a farmer's hovel outside town, and like his home he is pretty much an outsider, and he's happy like that!

After attending the wedding of his cousin's daughter, Silvio is gradually drawn back into the life of the town as secrets of infidelity, murder and deceit are slowly revealed through the narrative. Unfortunately, some of these secrets are Silvio's secrets as well, and it becomes apparent that not everyone in the book is who they have appeared to be through the years.

The characters in this book, although flawed, are much more likable than the main character in David Golder, which was her first book to be published, and the way that the secrets are unveiled was really clever.

The only thing that didn't work for me was the ending, because it really didn't feel like an ending. It seemed to me that the book needed maybe one more chapter, just to wrap things up, but that is a totally personal thing, so might not be a problem for other people who read this book. Maybe the book wasn't really finished when Nemirovsky died. The notes in the book tell us that part of this book was found in the suitcase that held Suite Francaise, and other parts of it were sent to friends. It was only recently that the two parts of the story were put together, and this book was born.

For a really short book (only 130 pages of story), the story was interesting and the book overall enjoyable, and easy to read in one sitting.

Rating 4/5

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The Magic Lasso

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