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Pickle Me This

December 27, 2007

Le Bal Irène Némirovsky

Though quite a slim volume, the latest work by Irène Némirovsky to be translated into English, Le Bal, will be welcomed by all those who so enjoyed Suite Française (which I read earlier this year). Le Bal also provides a new way to approach Némirovsky’s work, which here is less touched by the tragedy of her death (though is still influenced by events and circumstances in her life) and has to stand alone without the trappings of a story like Suite Française‘s amazing rediscovery and publication.

This book comprises two short novellas, “Le Bal” and “Snow in Autumn”. The former is a story to whom I’ll apply the adjective “wicked”– not something I do often to anything. Antoinette’s loathsome mother is an aspiring socialite whose riche is altogether nouveau. She treats terribly Antoinette, who herself is no prize but then Antoinette has the excuse of being 14, the very worst age ever. What happens then, when Antoinette finds herself entrusted with the posting of invitations to her parents’ first ball? What happens when Antoinette throws the invitations into the Seine instead? “Snow in Autumn” is told from the perspective of a servant following the Russian family she’s devoted her whole life to, from their flight from Russia during the Civil War to their exile in Paris. What is her place in this family whose circumstances have so changed?

Here was a wonderful read. It is a combination of Némirovsky’s uncommonly good writing, and excellent translation by Sandra Smith which has allowed the language to so retain its vibrancy. I also enjoyed the opportunity to read this author performing a closer treatment than Suite Française, which, of course, was exceptional in its sweep, but Némirovsky has more than one trick. She was an incredible writer, I can’t to read more, and I would also welcome more works in translation by other writers being promoted with a similar fervor.

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