Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Irene Nemirovsky

And Then Némirovsky Saved My Life

When I last wrote, I was looking forward to continuing with Parade’s End and posting on the second volume. However, for the last week (it feels like years) I have been moving house after work in the evenings. In conclusion, I’m exhausted. In reading terms, Parade’s End is too difficult for my tired brain.

Luckily this shall not be a post of woe, because I have been saved by a beautiful book. Rummaging in the nearest box I could find on Tuesday evening (every box is guaranteed to have at least one book in it) I dived straight for the thinnest one I could see. It was Irène Némirovsky’s Fire in the Blood. Lent to me by a friend over a year ago, it had been sitting unobserved on my bookcase ever since.

Now that I have read Fire in the Blood I can see how stupid it was to have left this unread for so long. It is the very definition of a literary gem. A thin, unpretentious story that manages to be both breathtaking and mundane, cutting to the very heart of what it is to be human. This might sound like I am exaggerating (I’m not): Whilst it is definitely true to say I need some sleep and a nice long day of doing no manual labour, it is equally true that this book was comfort for the soul.

I loved every word. Every word in every sentence was right. Everything was atmospheric:

I love our silent woods.

Put simply, it is the story of one man in rural france in (I’m guessing) the 1930s looking back on his life and the woman he once loved. It is a story of age and youth, of reminiscence and of simmering passions settling down. It is one of those really amazing stories that captures your imagination and binds you to the people in it.

There were previously only thirty or so pages of Fire in the Blood, because Némirovsky’s husband was in the process of typing it when she was arrested in 1942. Fortunately in 2005 the rest of the original handwritten manuscript was rediscovered. For me, this makes the novel all the more extraordinary – to think of what the reading world would have lost along with some pieces of paper.

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.