The Courilof Affair

The Courilof Affair, Irene Nemirovsky

I read this for the book group I run through work. It was the first book I have read by Irene Nemirovsky, and I think the most positive comment I can make about The Courilof Affair was that upon finishing I immediately wanted to read more Nemirovsky. (If not everything she has written!) Sticking to this one for now, The Courilof Affair focuses on the son of two russian revolutionaries Leon M. Leon is assigned to assassinate the russian minister of education (Courilof), but it must be public and brutal. On this basic plot, I was originally not too interested. The book gets all its substance and value from what happens next…

Leon M is appointed as Courilof’s doctor and spends the summer getting to know him. We are introduced to his parisian mistress-come-wife, his surly daughter and incompetent son, the emperor and empress, fellow revolutionaries, undercover policemen, students, rioters etc etc. Nemirovsky manages to fit an amazing amount of detail and atmosphere into a really short book.

I’ve read a few articles about her work and the comment I keep coming across is that she manages to write history with an apparent amazing amount of hindsight, when in fact she was writing so close to the time her novels are set in. I totally agree, she really is a gem of a writer, with an incredibly interesting (and sad) life. The discovery and rediscovery of her novels is definitely a favour to literature.