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The Wine of Solitude – Irène Némirovsky

09 Jul

9780701185572Hélène is a troubled young girl. Neglected by her self-absorbed mother and her adored but distant father, she longs for love and for freedom. As first the Great War and then the Russian Revolution rage in the background, she grows from a lonely, unhappy child to an angry young woman intent on destruction. The Wine of Solitude is a powerful tale of an unhappy family in difficult times and a woman prepared to wreak a shattering revenge.

There is something about Némirovsky’s words that I always find excruciatingly sincere.  When it comes to families dramas, I like none better than to delve into her works.

The plot is as ever, partially autobiographical of her life and relationship with her mother, whilst managing to highlight some of the ills of society which are more or less the same as today.

Seen through the eyes of Hélène, a victim of circumstance, born into a time of great upheavals. Although mature beyond her years it is so utterly disheartening to see her grow up and follow the same path as her family before her.  The inevitability of it all is heartbreaking.

As nations and social factions agitate, H’s view seems markedly detached from everything as she watches her self obsessed family squander the wealth they have built up. which could become worthless at any time due to war and revolution. The desperate and sickening excess is bewildering and such a waste, show,as it is, to the backdrop people starving.  The prosperous, living off of their precarious means come across as hateful and shallower than a dried up puddle.

It is into this world that the bitter simmering resentments are born and built up over the years, the book being littered with a variety of broken relationships ,that rely on power over others through monetary and emotional means.  It’s a seething mass of hate and self-preservation and once you are drawn into it, it is most likely you will finish the book in a couple of sittings.

The author doesn’t just create flawed characters, but ruined ones, replete with obsessive recriminations, her depictions are always brutally forthright and utterly believable.  The incisive portraits of people and the anxieties learnt in childhood that haunt and define them together with the morals learnt and passed on are coalesce into an almost organic form of storytelling.

The true value of life goes far beyond any comparation with the corruption of money, emotional wealth in favour of fleeting wealth as it should be, for all her biting and perceptive works it is still a shame that the author is still not given the attention she deserves, something which review will hopefully redress in some households.

Némirovsky always excels at showing the thin veneer of respectability that families parade, when the underlying reality is usually somewhat different.  Her insights are ruthless yet drive on the reader and is one of the main reasons why I love her works. I  have read six of her books and each one is an intense rush, over too quickly yet packed full of raw observations that stay in one’s mind.

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52 Comments

Posted by on 09/07/2014 in Fiction

 

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52 responses to “The Wine of Solitude – Irène Némirovsky

  1. Seyi sandra

    09/07/2014 at 13:55

    A gifted author no doubt! I would look forward to reading her books. I hope I would have the time to read all the books I’m piling up, it’s just that I’m somehow greedy with books. I want to read and read and write and write! But time is not a great friend now.

    A very detailed review Ste J, great job my friend!

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    • Ste J

      09/07/2014 at 16:30

      Booms are so easy to accumulate, you can read a couple a month and then spend half an hour in a bookshop and come out with at least six books…they look great on your bookshelves though, I’ll bet. If only work didn’t get in the way then life would be good, devoted to reading and writing, which is in my absolutely biased opinion the purest form of life.

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  2. Morgan

    09/07/2014 at 14:34

    This books sounds like rather a departure from my norm, yet it also sounds accessible in realities created in its world. Maybe its the pain of the characters that draws me in, connects with my sympathies and empathy, makes me want to discover more about them and perhaps myself as well 🙂 Inviting review, Ste J!

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    • Ste J

      09/07/2014 at 16:28

      That’s precisely it, the characters revolve around the plots of the wider world and just try to survive in their various ways. The beauty of nemirovsky’s books is that although she packs a literary punch in her books, they are never too long. All of her works are worth a read so please by all means do pick one up…I would love to hear your thoughts.

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      • Morgan

        09/07/2014 at 17:06

        I enjoy a book that doesn’t take too long. I tend to read quite slowly, I like to absorb, stop, think, (try not to rewrite what I’ve just read) and then read a bit more. But I would like to read this one just from your description… then we can have a proper natter about it 🙂

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        • Ste J

          09/07/2014 at 17:12

          Nattering is always good my friend. It is a safe bet that any of her books are one’s you would like as they are all of a high standard and pretty short. I do like enticing people with books, I wonder what will come next…well I know what will come next I have three more books ready for reviewing already.

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          • Morgan

            09/07/2014 at 18:15

            Just curious..do you select them yourself or do people ask you to review theirs for them? Or do you just go down the “best seller” list??

            After I natter for a long while, what usually comes next is a hot cup of chai or cocoa 🙂

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            • Ste J

              09/07/2014 at 18:22

              I have reviewed books for people before and still have a few outstanding ones to do, I try and avoid the bestseller list wherever possible and just go for things that sound interesting or have been recommended to me. I have accumulated so many books over the years that it is a fertile field for me to choose from, which is not bad as I haven’t bought any books in about a year and a half and still have tons to review.

              A drink is always handy to wet your whistle and keep the conversation flowing, which is also a handy metaphor for the pouring of tea.

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              • Morgan

                09/07/2014 at 19:15

                Funny, really, because I tend not to read much. (Usually too busy writing.) My book collection consists of about 20 books 😮

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                • Ste J

                  09/07/2014 at 19:31

                  I would not have believed that anybody could have such a small collection but I will let you off as you are such a committed writer.

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                  • Morgan

                    10/07/2014 at 02:34

                    Well, perhaps 30, but as they are all packed away in storage and I haven’t even SEEN them in about 4 years, its hard to count them (though not hard to miss them!)

                    who is your favourite author…if you shouldnt mind my asking.

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                    • Ste J

                      10/07/2014 at 15:33

                      oof! You do ask some tough questions, I don’t really have a favourite author as there are just so many great writers, I am veering to the genre of magical realism and say probably Umberto Eco, that will change in five minutes time though so please don’t quote me on that.

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                    • Morgan

                      10/07/2014 at 16:17

                      Im going to write that down and keep a running tally 😉
                      do you enjoy the classics?

                      (Just being annoyingly conversational )

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                    • Ste J

                      10/07/2014 at 16:21

                      Oh yes. I have just finished another classic which will soon be reviewed on this ‘ere blog…in fact I probably need to review more classics. I do like to mix it up though, a bit of anything will do me!

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                    • Morgan

                      10/07/2014 at 18:12

                      I will be interested to see which one it is and those I can discuss with you 🙂

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                    • Ste J

                      10/07/2014 at 18:13

                      I will give you a little hint, it is quintessentially English and it isn’t a Dickens novel.

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                    • Morgan

                      10/07/2014 at 18:24

                      hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

                      Austin? Bronte? Tolkien??

                      No no …don’t tell me… I’ll wait with bated breath for your post 😉

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  3. shadowoperator

    09/07/2014 at 16:37

    I have a hard time reading books that contain too much pain and hurt in them; it sometimes seems to me as if the author feels so much pain that he or she is trying to inflict it on the reader by way of getting rid of some of it. Still, this book sounds very interesting, and when I can, I plan to give it a read. Thanks for your review. I like to be led to books I’ve never seen before, though I do believe I’ve heard something, vaguely, about this author before.

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    • Ste J

      09/07/2014 at 16:45

      The author is most famous for Suite Francaise which I believe is coming out in the medium of film sometime this year. Mrs N did have her fair share of problems and resentments but she writes in a very detached way, although emotions run high in the book, it isn’t so much inflicted on the reader as other some other books that require you to get involved. her unfinished Fire in the Blood is perhaps a good showcase as it hints at things rather than goes all dramatic.

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  4. Al

    09/07/2014 at 21:55

    I’m not sure if this would be a book of my tastes. Although I said that about Pride & Prejudice and Love in the Time of Cholera and they have both turned into my most favoured books with their detail and descriptiveness. I may see if I can nab it from the library. Or I have Prime on Amazon, so I may see if I can borrow it on my Kindle.

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 15:43

      I was the same, I only picked up one of her books thanks to a radio review and I just sunk into it, they are quick reads compared to P&P and LitToC as well which is handy.

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      • Al

        10/07/2014 at 18:46

        It does help to read something that is not quite as deep occasionally. I have so many books that I have said I will read at the moment. The next is a Malazan book that a friend brought me for Christmas 3 years ago.

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        • Ste J

          10/07/2014 at 18:55

          It is amazing how books bought years ago tend to take ages to read…yes a nice mix of books is always the key, I generally make it a rule to not read two books of the same genre back to back unless my heart is set on a specific book, which is rare.

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          • Al

            10/07/2014 at 20:28

            It’s odd for me. For years I have read Star Wars books. All in a row. 27 of them back to back all in the same row. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo and their children and friends. Spanning the 40+ years after A New Hope.

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            • Ste J

              11/07/2014 at 15:43

              That is one epic series, the books for Star Wars have never appealed to me, I’m not sure why but I assume it is because the original three films were epic that I am trying to keep them pure…I am weird.

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              • Al

                11/07/2014 at 19:05

                You’re young lol

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  5. Christina ~

    10/07/2014 at 04:21

    I am very much looking forward to reading Nemirovsky…you do describe her writing with such enticing verbiage… if I hadn’t been already wishing to… I would most certainly after having read your intriguing review. Another moved further up the TBR list. While it may not be this title exactly (having only Fire In the Blood and Suite Francaise currently on the shelves)…I am sure it will nonetheless be one I will love.

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 15:46

      I am yet to read Suite Francaise, Fire in the Blood was my first read and that was just so wonderfully atmospheric…I apologise for making you completely rearrange your TBR list so often.

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      • Christina ~

        11/07/2014 at 02:54

        Oh please don’t apologize….it is a wondrous feeling to know there are so many literary loves yet to be discovered….I am in quite a state just thinking of it…

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        • Ste J

          11/07/2014 at 15:38

          Well I shall make sure you are kept in a state of happiness with more literary treats and reminders to read those great books on your book shelves.

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  6. Claire 'Word by Word'

    10/07/2014 at 18:27

    Love Nemirovsky and haven’t read this one, my pile changes daily and then I end up choosing something not even on the list. But that’s pure joy for me, abandoning plans and being spontaneous.

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 18:31

      I know that feeling the best made book plans go out of the window pretty much every day. The drama of not knowing does keep life interesting. I do know that I am keeping Suite Francaise for last but other than that anything can happen.

      Although this isn’t my favourite book of hers it is still has that usual trademark intensity and as ever is a really good read.

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  7. N@ncy

    10/07/2014 at 18:32

    Nemirovsky is a very talented writer and I think she’s better than Jane Austen. I was so impressed by her writing in French as it was not her mother language. Perfect book to read in French if you want to polish up your language skiils! It is my dream to be able to read, think and write in French as he did.

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 18:36

      I do need to polish up my language skills, it is another thing that I need to make time for…one day I am determined to do that. Austen and Nemirovsky are pretty much polar opposites in their style but I have only read one Austen book, Pride and prejudice so I need to read some more…Northanger Abbey I think will be my next read of hers.

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  8. Letizia

    10/07/2014 at 18:40

    A lot of people I know have read her books but for some reason I keep hesitating to read her work. But your review (and knowing we have such similar tastes) may just push me over the edge. Which book should I start with?

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 18:51

      I am always up for tipping people over the edge and sometimes I do it metaphorically as well, so yes please pick up one of her books, I think I have read half and they have all been fine reads so please do. Fire in the Blood is wonderful and very French, Jezebel is brutally honest about women and All Our Worldly Goods was a good read too, I would say that is a good order to start with but really whatever your local bookshop holds will suffice.

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  9. N@ncy

    10/07/2014 at 18:42

    I try to read a mix of English, Dutch, French, non-fiction and now the occasionaly children’s book. I have 15 French books on the table….your review pushed me over the edge. Start Suite française in French tonight!

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 18:53

      Everybody is going over the edge tonight, I must have that effect on women. I do not possess any French copies of anything at the moment, this can be rectified at some of the wonderful second hand bookshops in Derbyshire though. I met a lady on a plane once translating a children’s book from Spanish to English…I need to start learning as much as possible though otherwise it will niggle at me.

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  10. heavenali

    10/07/2014 at 18:54

    I have been meaning to read more Irene Nemirovsky ever since I read Dimance and other stories. I already have Suite Francaise but this sounds lovely too.

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    • Ste J

      10/07/2014 at 19:00

      I am always wary (for no apparent reason) of short stories so will save them for later in my Nemir-odyssey as I have just decided to call it. I found her unfinished Fire in the Blood to have some beautiful descriptions as well…she is perhaps my favourite female writer of all time…but I am always open to suggestions on that score. welcome to the blog.

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  11. Tom Gething

    11/07/2014 at 01:30

    Thanks for reminding me to read more of her!

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 15:33

      I can’t believe you forgot her!

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      • Tom Gething

        11/07/2014 at 16:23

        It has been hard to remember anything during World Cup. So, who are you rooting for in the final? I’m hoping for Argentina but expect Germany to win.

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        • Ste J

          11/07/2014 at 16:32

          I have been insisting on Germany since the last European Championships so it’d be rude to change my mind now. The World Cup does make one forget a lot of things I agree.

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          • Tom Gething

            11/07/2014 at 16:35

            They do look strong and play as an ensemble. Let’s hope the machine doesn’t roll over Argentina like it did with Brazil. After all, there is a certain degree of hemispheric pride at stake!

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            • Ste J

              11/07/2014 at 16:40

              I have been disappointed with Argentina, it is strange that I have been disappointed with quite a few teams despite it being a great world cup. I think Argentina are tactically more aware defensively than Brazil are. I think the game will be a lot closer, which wouldn’t be difficult.

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  12. Sherri

    11/07/2014 at 19:57

    I LOVE the sound of this book and also of the author. I am fascinated that you review this book as ‘partly autobiographical’. I am in process of writing a memoir about a time in my young life of a particularly fractious series of events so anything autobiographical makes my hair stand up on end…
    ‘The thin veneer of respectability that families parade, when the underlying reality is usually somewhat different.’ Sounds like my family, ha!! This alone causes me to think deeply about so many things….
    Great review of an author I’ve never heard of but will definitely read…your review is a great read in and of itself, thank you for this my friend 🙂

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    • Ste J

      11/07/2014 at 20:10

      I remember reading somewhere that although Irene and her mum never got on, when her mother died, in amongst the few belongings were a couple of her books, it’s so sad.

      I look forward to reading your words, you are a writer I enjoy reading and for you to say my review is a good read in itself makes me no end of happy. When a book moves me the words flow so much more easier than when I read something like Mills and boon, which I did once.

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      • Sherri

        12/07/2014 at 17:18

        Oh that is so sad…

        Haha!! Mills and boon? Only once, I’m sure…I just can’t imagine it…no wonder your words didn’t flow! But they did here and I can see why. And I thank you so very much for your lovely compliment of my writing, goodness, you’ve made my day! Methinks it is you has made me no end of happy now 😀

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        • Ste J

          13/07/2014 at 13:08

          Mills and Boon and the first Fifty Shades book was not my finest hours when it comes to reviews but if I am reading the glorious, to truly appreciate i have to read the terrible. I enjoy reading your words so please keep them up and then my days will be made too!

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          • Sherri

            14/07/2014 at 16:16

            Well now I will be certain to, you can count on it…and just out of curiously, are the Fifty Shades of Grey books truly awful? I have no interest in reading them whatsoever and I don’t care how popular they are, you will never catch me writing that tripe…oops…and I haven’t even read them and I’m saying that… 😉

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            • Ste J

              14/07/2014 at 18:39

              They are as bad as you expect…two of my friends got me drunk (I helped a little) and then talked me into reading it…it was diabolically bad. If memory serves me correctly they were my fist two really angry reviews, which I don’t do often but Mills and Boon, Fifty shades and The Da Vinci Code push me to new levels of annoyance and bewilderment at the general public’s taste.

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