Monday, November 15, 2010

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand it was fabulous; the writing was excellent and the story totally absorbing (translation done right as opposed to the Stieg Larsson mess). However, and here is where I'm torn, the threads . . . oh, the threads. I realize the word 'Suite' refers to (thank you dictionary app) 'A group of things belonging together', which in this case means 'A group of stories belonging together', but there were so many stories and characters I felt like I should be keeping notes. Not really what I was expecting outside of a Charles Dickens tome. Suite Française is basically one event (the first half, 'Storm in June') and then one setting (the second half, 'Dolce') from the perspectives of upwards of 30 characters, all with their own thoughts, personalities and relationships. The family house cat even weighed-in. Mon Dieu, exhausting! It all worked, though. The connections took shape to form a more complete narrative. The reader gets a real sense of the human condition -sometimes awful, sometimes surprisingly tender- during wartime. I just started losing patience with everyone's threads toward the end of the book and was looking forward to some closure. But of course closure never comes -it's wartime after all- the stories just stop. And that's okay too.

The fact that Némirovsky wrote this during the German occupation of France is amazing. She was living the very same, and worse, horrors that she portrays in her book, and yet she writes with such insight and generosity that one might think this true fiction written from a safe distance. The stories themselves may be fictional, but their essence is real. Némirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942.

Visit the author's website for more information.

5 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I'm so glad I read your review and the insights you provided! I have this book on my desk to read at some point, but it's good to have a little extra insight into the structure of the book and the number of characters so that I can prepare myself for it!

Trish said...

It's a book very much worth reading, but probably best read at a time when you can sit quietly and concentrate rather than on the fly.

food for thought said...

i have been debating about reading this for years, never sure why i can't commit either...

BookQuoter said...

I actually enjoyed the appendices rather than the novel itself but I had to consider that it is technically an unfinished book when I rated it!

Trish said...

food for thought - it took a while for me to pick it up too, but I was glad once I finally did. The stars were aligned right, or something.

bookquoter - yes as much as was in the novel, it definitely felt unfinished. It read more like a work-in-progress which was actually kind of cool.