Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suite Francaise

Suite Francais was written by Irene Nemirovsky while France was at war, and the story about the book is almost better than the book itself.... the novel was created while the author was sequestered by Nazis in the French countryside and the manuscript was only discovered decades after the author's death in Auschwitz.

The prose is a bit heavy-handed in parts, "Christian charity, the compassion of centuries of civilization, fell from her like useless ornaments, revealing her bare, arid soul. She needed to feed and protect her children. Nothing else mattered any more." But there are also deft portrait sketches, "He had a unique way of thinking - he didn't consider himself that important; in his own eyes, he was not that rare and irreplaceable creature most people imagine when they think about themselves."

Nemirovsky doesn't hesitate to show the dark side of personalities, but unfortunately any redeeming qualities are few and far between. Unlike Frankl or Wiesel she didn't have the luxury of time to process the experience and look back on events. As a result there is a real visceral quality to the writing but it sometimes also seems a bit predicated. What I mean is, when you read the Appendices, you can see notes she made to herself about technique, "If I want to create something striking, it is not misery I will show but the prosperity that contrasts with it," sometimes you are very aware a technique is being employed (like seeing a magician's Book of Tricks tucked up her sleeve.)

This work would likely have been a real masterpiece if the author lived to finish it, if she had been able to complete her creative process of draft, rewrite, polish. Instead we are left with glittering fragments.

If you don't read the book at least read the appendices, they show the true genius of this great writer.

No comments: