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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 April 2017
After years of wandering in exotic places, dissipating his inheritance on unsuccessful schemes which leave him unable to repay debts to his kindly relatives Hélène and François, and forced to sell land to the miserly old Duclos who has married the young, penniless possible gold-digger Brigitte, Silvio has returned to his home village of Issy-L'Évêque in Burgundy, where the author herself once lived briefly in the 1930s.

Observing the world with a shrewd and cynical detachment, Silvio suspects that Colette, the vivacious young daughter of Helene and François may regret her marriage to Jean, the sensitive young miller. When Jean is found drowned after an inexplicable accident, a chain of events is set in motion, revealing the passions which lie beneath the surface of a closed, conservative community whose members maintain a rock-like solidarity to suppress any whiff of scandal: keeping up appearances, guarding one’s privacy and leading a quiet life are more powerful driving forces than admitting the truth and ensuring that justice is done.

This short novel hooked me from the first page. It is a psychological drama written with great clarity, which I believe has been retained in the English version. Irene Némirovsky is remarkable both for her insight into human nature and her acute sense of culture and place. Without having experienced life in a French village, one is convinced of the truth of her perceptions, as when Silvio describes how the bourgeoisie, from which he comes do not stand out from the ordinary people in their attitudes, working their land and not giving a fig about anyone else. Living behind their triple-locked doors, their drawing rooms may be stuffed with furniture, but they live in the kitchen to save on fuel. In another evocative scene, Silvio captures the beauty of nightfall – the subtle change and reduction in colours, “ne laissant qu’une nuance intermédiaire entre le gris de perle et le gris de fer”. But all the outlines are perfectly sharp: the cherry trees, the little low wall, the forest and the cat’s head as it plays between his feet and bites his shoe.

Laden with nostalgia, the story contrasts mature, companionable love with “the fire in the blood” of youthful passion, posing the question as to which of these states is more “real”, and necessary for us to have lived to the full. How often does love make us lie to each other, and delude ourselves? When reminded in old age of past passions, how can we deal with feelings of regret and jealousy.

It was neither the somewhat stereotyped characters nor some contrived incidents that disappointed me initially, but rather the abrupt and unexpected ending. However, since the novel was not discovered until 2007, decades after the author’s tragic death in Auschwitz which denied her the opportunity to edit and complete it, we should be thankful that it survived at all and be impressed that what is probably a “first draft” should be so well-written and tightly structured, and have the power to absorb and move us so strongly. Also, the ambiguity of the last sentence leaves us free to speculate on the final outcome, on what the author intended to write next and adds to the sense that we may never fully know and understand each other in our complex and fluid emotions.
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on 28 March 2009
As with Suite Francais I was hooked from the first page - exquisitly written. Set in rural Burgundy the story is told by Silvio - one-time traveller - a prodigal son who, by his own admission, was gone from home for so long that even the fatted calf had died of old age by the time he returned! Now he's elderly and living quite alone, but with cousins nearby. He lives in a community where {quote} 'Everyone lives in his own house, on his own land, distrusts his neighbours, harvests his wheat, counts his money and doesn't give a thought to the rest of the world.' Family loyalty is paramount and skeletons are kept in the cupboard. This story is woven around a secret that slowly reveals itself whilst we consider the various stages of life, and the fact that youth and age are usually at odds with each other. What Irene Nemirovsky has highlighted so well is the way most of us become clothed in respectibility and wisdom as we age, usually forgetting how it felt to be young - when we experienced that 'fire in the blood'. Although only a short novel, the author very cleverly covers a lot of ground; no wasted narrative - every word moves the reader to the story's conclusion. Wonderful!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 January 2012
This novel was discovered many years after Irene Nemirovsky's tragic death. It is technically unfinished, but not to the point where it cannot be read and enjoyed. The narrator is Silvio, aged in his 60s, who lives alone just outside a small French village. In his youth he travelled the world and had affairs, but now he regards that younger self as being so removed from him that it's almost as if it were someone else. He believes that "fire in the blood" is only for the young: living life with passion and disregard for the consequences.

The book takes place over a few years, as Silvio observes the actions of the younger people in the village. It is only towards the end of the book that we realise the secrets that connect them all.

It's a beautifully written story that develops at its own pace. You can almost see the village, smell the lavender, hear the insects buzzing, taste the rustic soup. It's a shame that the ending is as abrupt as it is. It's not that you're left wondering what was going to happen, but more that you feel cheated of having the ends neatly tied up. Nevertheless a lyrical, evocative read.
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Short (150 page) but exquisite novel set in rural inter-war Burgundy and narrated by crusty bachelor Silvio who likes nothing better than his own company.
As the book opens, he is at a family get-together celebrating the engagement of his cousin's daughter. Her devoted parents look on.
Yet there are many secrets, both in the past and still to come. As Silvio observes from his calm middle age 'how is this fire lit within us? It devours everything and then in a few years...it burns itself out. Then you see how much damage has been done.'
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 March 2008
At first the book seems to be a gentle story of French rural life and then, about half way through the book, the narrative erupts into one of crime and passion and one is propelled along to finish it. The writing is very taught with short sentences and no redundant description and yet the author evokes atmosphere and character: she reminded me of Georges Simeon.
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on 22 August 2008
Irene Nemirovsky's short novel, written before her arrest and subsequent death in Auschwitz in 1942, was considered lost (there was a partial text of the first pages) and was only found on 2007 (!). Nevertheless, everything indicates this is not the final draft, and had she lived to publish it a different version would have arrived to us. The book itself is a tale of secret passions in a French small town. The arrival of Silvio, a single man in his sixties, to his home town, after a lifetime of living abroad, lets secrets hidden under the cover of normalcy and boredom out of the closet; a lot of it it's beguiling, but it also feels incomplete: for example, the relationship between Silvio and Brigitte (fundamental, given what we find in the book's last pages) is curiously underworked: this lets me to think we should consider this book to be an unfinished work. Despite this, it is another fine work by the Russian-born Jewish-raised French author, whose books have gone through a revival in the last few years.
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VINE VOICEon 24 August 2008
What a wonderful book. Lyrical and atmospheric, this book is a story told by Silvio about his family in the early last century who live in a little village in rural France. What starts out gently and as a story of great love between the various family members quickly descends into secrets, lies, betrayal and grief.

I picked this book up this morning and read the first page to see how I liked it and before I knew it I have read the whole things while barely pausing for breath. A lovely book and I shall certainly be reading more by this author.
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on 9 January 2009
Irene shows us through this book her deep understanding of human nature in French society and culture.The book explores the introverted rural French people with their hidden ways and of things unspoken.
Families seemingly happy are actually riven with dark incidents in their past.Infidelity,lust,longing and pathos all provide a panorama of rural life in pre war France.As the individual stories unfold,the sadness increases,but Irene's loves of all things French shines through.
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on 16 April 2008
After reading Suite Francaise, which I absolutely LOVED, I was a little bit anxious that this other "new" book (that found the day of light after so many years in oblivion) will not fulfil my expectations...but the hell it did, what a brilliant book!

Although it is way too short, and it is obvious that Ms Nemirovsky intended to write a lot more, fortunately the plot is quite coherent and you could imagine where she was going to with it. Nevertheless, I felt the same rage and frustration I experienced with Suite Francaise of never being able to read the finished product, due to the author's untimely death. I am delighted anyway that it has been published in spite of all these shortcomings, as it has been a crime that such a beautiful book has been hidden away for so many years. And unfinished or not, it is always a pleasure to read anything from Irene Nemirovsky. It brings tears to my eyes to realise her voice was extinguished way too early and we have been denied the honour of reading more of her fantastic books.

This book is a gem, I just love Ms Nemirovsky's style, it is so well written, her vivid description of the French country live is a delight to read. It is a very sarcastic and sharp critic to the sometimes petty and particular ways of the peasant mentality. The plot has so many clever twists; I could not put it down. Something I particularly loved about it was how masterfully the author mirrored the past and the present, showing how the more things change the more they stay the same.

A must read. Thank you Ms Nemirovsky, I'll eternally be a fan.
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on 24 April 2009
I loved `Suite Française' so was really looking forward to reading this other lost gem from Irène Némirovsky. Again, it is tragic that she died in Auschitz without ever having the chance to revise or finish the story. As a result, this is more a novella than a full-length novel. Nevertheless, it is a beautifully written, if unedited, tale set in rural France.

It starts off seemingly mild and bucolic, and indeed, seems as if it will continue in this vein. But about halfway through the story it suddenly becomes transformed into a compelling web of passion and deceit.

The stories of the two young women, Colette and Brigitte, would be more compelling and involving if told from the viewpoints of the women themselves, rather than narrated by Silvio, an ageing cousin of Colette's mother Hélène. Silvio lives a somewhat reclusive life in what he describes to as `a farmer's hovel in the middle of the woods', and seems an unlikely vehicle for relating the passions of two young women. By the end of the book, though, the reason for using him became clear, but while no other narrative voice could have been used so effectively for the final chapters, I still wonder if the author would have used multiple viewpoints had she been spared to revise the work. Or maybe that's too modern a technique. It was only towards the end of the book that I appreciated the aptness of the title, too.

I had become so immersed in the story that I was sorry when it ended so soon after it had started. It's a gem well worth reading but be warned - if you love stories about human relationships it'll leave you wishing for more!
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