Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Le Bal by Irene Nemirovsky

Two classic tales from the author of Suite Francaise brought together for the first time in one volume.

Le Bal is a sharp, brittle story of a girl who sets out to ruin the mother she hates. The Kampfs have risen swiftly up the ranks of 1930s Parisian society. Painfully aware of her working class roots, and desperate to win acceptance, Madame Kampf decides to throw a huge ball to announce her arrival to society. Her daughter Antoinette, who has just turned fourteen dreams of attending, but Madame Kampf is resolved not to present her daughter to potential admirers. In a fury of adolescent rage and despair Antoinette exacts a swift and horrible revenge...
These two novella's are both short, at around 60 pages each. The synopsis is quite good for this novella, so I won't worry too much about recapping. What I would say is that there are times when reading Nemirovsky's work that you have to wonder if everyone she knew was unlikeable. It is not the first of her books that have had me wondering this - the characters in David Golder were the same.

The family dynamics were difficult to say the least, with a distant father, a mean spirited, social climbing mother, and the daughter was definitely in need of some discipline!

As a commentary on the difficulty for an outsider to break into the all important society it was effective.

Given that the story is so short, it must have been an effective exercise given how much I felt about each of the unfortunate characters in this very unhappy little world!
Snow in Autumn pays homage to Nemirovsky's beloved Chekhov and chronicles the life of a devoted servant following her masters as they flee Revolutionary Moscow and emigrate to a life of hardship in Paris. As the crisis pushes the family to the brink of dissolution, Tatiana struggles to adapt to life in Paris and waits in vain for her cherished first snows of autumn.

After the self absorbedness (not even a word I am sure!) of the characters in the first novella, it was a breath of fresh air to find more heart within this one! Whilst I am not all that familiar with Chekhov and therefore did not catch the homage to him, it was easier to like the Carine family as they flee from the Bolshevik revolution, accompanied by their faithful servant Tatiana and the ghosts of the past.

The portrayal of the difficulty of coping with such massive changes was movingly portrayed, particularly through the eyes of the elderly Tatiana as she waits for the first signs of snow and winter in a strange new city.

Nemirovsky touched not only on the physical change of location for the family, but also on the moral changes that occurred as a family used to the best of everything have to get used to living on not very much at all.

It was this novella which redeemed this little book for me. If I had only had Le Bal to base my thoughts on I would have been a little disappointed.


  1. I want to get this book as well and have looked at the UK copy as it is only in hardcover here (and the stories are different I think). It's interesting when authors write about characters that are not very likable. Sometimes if the story is really good, it doesn't really matter. Other times they can be annoying to the point of distraction.

  2. Hi Marg, there is an award waiting for you on my blog.

  3. Actonbell, her most famous book at this time is Suite Francaise. For me, the story of the book is as interesting, if not more, than the story in the book.

    Danielle, the main reason why I commented on that aspect is because it is obvious that she has a penchant for writing unlikeable characters, and I wonder why.

    Thanks Vickie!

  4. I think in the notes at the back of Suite Francais she talked about her choice of characters -- that she focused on the upper class, for some reason. I don't recall why. I did think her characters were not very likeable. Still, her writing style is intriguing and vivid -- I still remember feeling as if I'd been there with bombs falling all around me and I'm hoping to read more.

  5. I think that is probably because the upper class was her world, and so she was writing what she knew.

  6. Nice review. Probably not my thing though!!

    Here's a tag!! Cute meme. Hope you play along!

  7. You have more patience than me! Characters like those found in Le Bal get on my nerves lol.

  8. Hey Marge! This looks interesting, I wasn't aware that Nemirovsky had a set of novellas out.

    Thanks for your well wishes, btw, I am clear and free of radiation and celebrating the holidays all the better for it.