“Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky (2004) – book review

 I think I might get lynched for saying this, but I couldn’t really get along with this book very well at all. I know the personal history is tragic, and it is remarkable that the novel was written during the very period it depicts and that the manuscripts were kept safe and unknown for fifty years before coming to light. Maybe I need to re-read it and this review will be hopelessly misplaced and I will have to eat my words. These were my impressions on reading it back in 2007, so please comment back if you believe I need to redress the balance.

The first part of the book for me was a black and white portrayal of a myriad of unlikeable, almost caricature-like personalities. It’s not that we want everyone to be depicted like a Shopaholic character, but it would be nice to feel a few redeeming qualities in human nature lie under the surface. Not so. Then the second half (“Dolce” in the original manuscript) centres around the village community and there’s a hint of things coming together – not that life has to be like that – but again I just felt a sense of relief upon reaching the last line and its bold “all that remained of the German regiment was a little cloud of dust”.

So there you are, feelings of guilt at not wholeheartedly enthusing. “Suite Françaiseis an unfinished work still in its draft form, missing the final three un-composed novellas. The woman who penned it did come to an untimely death in terrible circumstances, and her writing evokes the sometimes pointlessness life can have as well as a slice of life at the time. Should I give myself a sharp poke in the proverbial and go back to it and/or read something else by this author that was published earlier – I’ve been sitting on “Le Bal” and “Le Malentendu” since reading this – which would be the more engrossing read, I wonder?

And now, to make matters worse, I’ve been to see the film. And thoroughly enjoyed it. Shamelessly wiped the tears away as the fates are metered out to Lambert Wilson (brilliant, brilliant actor) and Ruth Wilson (have loved everything I have ever seen her do). Stiff upper lip French resistance is faultlessly portrayed by Michelle Williams (Luckiest Actress in the World Award for having the as yet little known Eddie Redmayne swoon over her as Marilyn) and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas (absolutely steals the show in her role in this film – in the most unobtrusive manner). Without forgetting the drool factor for Matthias Schoenaerts – very schön indeed.

Furthermore, Dame K.S.T. talks movingly about the film in this interview with Jenny Murray on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour‘, and has made me feel even more of a heel, as she evokes the whole unimaginable notion of living under occupation, and the unveiling of human nature under duress.

Que faire, mes amis ???

Read in 2008.

Rating : a sheepish 6/10

Winner of the Renaudot Prize in 2004

Images taken from here and here.
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3 Responses to “Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky (2004) – book review

  1. Pingback: Book Group I – Paris Evening Group | Literary ramblings etc

  2. Pingback: Book Group II – Susan’s Club, U.K. | Literary ramblings etc

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