16 October 2007

Irene Nemirovsky - Le Bal

Nemirovsky was a highly popular French novelist in the 1930s, and several films were made from her works - two from Le Bal, one in French and one in German. Her current revival is due to the recent discovery and publication of an unfinished novel, Suite Francaise, which detailed life under the German occupation she was suffering, prior to her arrest and deportation, and death in a camp.

Nemirovsky drew on her personal experiences for her works, and her early life was highly eventful. Her father was an important banker in the Tsar's court, which informed David Golder, and the family had to escape from Russia after the revolution, which is the basis for the second story in this volume, Snow in Autumn.

The first story, Le Bal, was stimulated by Nemirovsky's fractious relationship with her mother, which is hinted at in David Golder too. A young girl, feeling ignored by her social-climbing mother, sabotages a ball to be held at her home by not posting the invitations. As the evening develops, and it becomes evident that no guests are going to arrive, the mother's distress is the daughter's victory.

It's evident that this is a young girl's fantasy, no doubt Nemirovsky's dream as she grew up distant from her mother. It's similar to Maupassant, a clear influence, in its tone and structure, but he would have told the story in 10 pages, whereas she uses 50. I found that a bit too long, but I suppose the wait for the inevitable denouement matched the tension of the girl's anticipation.

The second story, of an aged servant following her masters from revolutionary Russia, is better, a contemplation of devotion and ageing.


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