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The Fires of Autumn – Irène Némirovsky

27 Nov

WarmAutumnParis 1918, Bernard Jacquelain returns from the trenches a changed man.

The city is a whirl of decadence and corruption and he embarks on a life of parties and shady business dealings, as well as an illicit affair.

But as another war threatens, everything around him starts to crumble and the future for him and for France suddenly looks dangerously uncertain.

Irène Némirovsky has long been a favourite author of mine and is definitely one of the best 20th century authors, sadly still criminally under recognised by readers out there.  Her ability to clearly convey human nature is incisive and dramatic but most of all beautifully accomplished.

The first chapter contains a wonderful Champs-Élysées family scene, which was perfectly executed and was made all the more poignant knowing the events that history is rushing inexorably toward.  I would have been happy to stay in that place and just wish these people well but sadly that is not life.

Perhaps they have now gone too far to step back and feel we’re on the brink of an abyss?  But what is certain is that it will be the young men who are first to fall into that abyss.

It’s a hard book to read knowing what will befall nations and tear apart of families.  The problem with Némirovsky’s characters – which goes for all her books – is that they are so well realised and penned that it becomes hard to see them suffer on their journeys.  Even the characters one dislikes demand a certain sympathy as their flaws are something we can all relate to as much as their fears and expectations.

There are plenty of characters in the book, despite only mentioning Bernard Jacquelain in the blurb and a plethora of different views and struggles throughout the novel, what I found most striking was the adjacency of both the challenges of everyday life at home and the war ‘over there’ that defies the abilities of the characters to reconcile.  The hopes and dream of the individual and the generation are utterly subsumed by the momentous and epoch changing events of history.

She was walking towards love the way you walk towards a fire, in full knowledge you will only end up either seriously injured or even dead and that you would have died for nothing, in obscurity, without honour.

Throughout the book, the ideals of society and the personal react over time to the carnage inflicted and the realisation of the transience of everything in an insecure world.  A new morality and the urge to live life to the full – even at the expense of other people – is born from the cruelty and irrevocable changes of recent times which makes one ask what is the collateral price of a soldier’s life?

For a book encompassing both war and peacetime the author manages to show what happens when ordinary people transcend their fears and risk themselves, not only for loved ones but also for complete strangers.  The conscious loyalty and heroism is made all the more striking by the inherently random nature of death during war.  Once I got over my reticence on the Champs-Élysées and carried on through the rest of the story, I didn’t want it to finish.  Such is the power of her writing, that I was strongly invested in the characters from the start and would have been more than happy to read a further 300 pages of their stories.

It was a war zone where you could no longer tell which bodies were yours and which were the enemy’s – the mud covered them with the same shroud.

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39 Comments

Posted by on 27/11/2015 in Fiction

 

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39 responses to “The Fires of Autumn – Irène Némirovsky

  1. leapingtracks

    27/11/2015 at 17:00

    I have had Suite Française in my ‘to read’ pile for far too long. I had not even thought that IN might have written anything else. On the basis of your compelling review, I shall now have to pay more attention.

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    • Ste J

      27/11/2015 at 18:56

      I’m leaving Suite Française until last I think, although I am perilously close to having read all of her works. I’ve loved all her books so far, she’s well worth a read!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

    27/11/2015 at 18:13

    I’ve only read Suite Francaise (which was like an absolute kick to the teeth in the best possible way) and wasn’t sure which of her books to read next, but I think you have made a good case for The Fires of Autumn. Do you have a favorite?

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    • Ste J

      27/11/2015 at 19:07

      I’m looking forward to reading SF, whichever book you pick up, you really can’t go far wrong with her prose and emotional power. I particularly liked Jezebel though.

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  3. macjam47

    28/11/2015 at 00:41

    Fabulous review. I just might have to read this one Ste J. The cover is intriguing. Have a great weekend, my friend.

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:08

      I do love the cover, a nice wide space with a brooding feel. I think this will be one you will love but if you don’t see this one, any of her other books will reel you in as well, I’ve really enjoyed all of the ones I have read, which is most.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. clarepooley33

    28/11/2015 at 02:35

    I will definitely have to give IN another go sometime soon. Your review is so sound and well reasoned that I feel I must have missed something when I read her before.

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:13

      Yes please do, she is worth another go if you weren’t moved the first time which one of hers did you tackle before?

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        28/11/2015 at 22:31

        Suite Francaise. I have read so many positive reviews of it I am starting to think I might not have been in the right frame of mind when I read it. It wasn’t a difficult book to read, it was extremely well written and the descriptions of France and Paris during the war were good but I wasn’t moved by any of it and didn’t feel close to any of the characters. I will have to read something else of hers and then read SF again.

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        • Ste J

          30/11/2015 at 10:00

          I think I’ll read SF next now, I am looking forward to it and life is too short to hold back with it. I’m more intrigued about it now as you weren’t moved and I trust your taste in books…books are fascinating but readers are more so.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • clarepooley33

            30/11/2015 at 23:45

            Thank-you Ste! However, I hope I am wrong about the book and you really enjoy it 🙂

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  5. Carl D'Agostino

    28/11/2015 at 03:23

    Right now reading STAR ISLAND by Carl Hiaasen and 1356 by Bernard Cornwell. Thanks visit my blog.

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:28

      Two authors I’m familiar with but haven’t yet got around to reading yet. Likewise thanks for stopping by.

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  6. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    28/11/2015 at 15:47

    You’ve hooked me again…and reeled me in…I’ll be checking on this book 🙂

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:05

      Némirovsky is one of those authors who lays bare human emotions and doesn’t shy away from the beautiful and the ugly in her characters. I love sharing the wonderful books I come across but I wouldn’t be able to do that without my regular visitors so thank you as ever for stopping by and taking the time to read.

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  7. Chelsea Brown

    30/11/2015 at 04:45

    This book sounds like it has a lot to keep one hooked, The story’s description certainly pulled me in. I can see why this author would be a favorite on your list, no story is more compelling, than those written in truth and realism.

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    • Ste J

      30/11/2015 at 09:55

      Truth and realism always make for a strong foundation and with adversity and actual events involved, it makes it more powerful. Her writings are usually pretty short as well so you can fit it in around your writing as well, what more encouragement could you need.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Chelsea Brown

        01/12/2015 at 01:47

        Very true if you made things too fictional with a story that revolves around actual events, you’d lose the readers interest. So it sounds like she made sure to cross her T’s and dot her I’s. There’s nothing quite like a novella, short, sweet, and to the point.

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  8. Letizia

    30/11/2015 at 16:42

    I still haven’t read anything by her yet. To tell you the truth, I’m a bit tired of war time stories set in France so feel a need to take a break for a few years, but perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice…

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    • Ste J

      30/11/2015 at 19:38

      A beak from them is good and will be more effective when you come back, she has written many other books that aren’t to do with war time France, Jezebel and The Dogs and the Wolves are both fine reads.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    30/11/2015 at 21:06

    I haven’t read any work of Irène Némirovsky and, after reading this post, I think I’m really missing something. Will go for this one…thanks for enlightening me about her… 🙂

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    • Ste J

      01/12/2015 at 14:46

      I do love recommending Némirovsky as she isn’t half as well known as she deserves and everybody should at least try her but I think you’ll enjoy her works.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. shadowoperator

    01/12/2015 at 18:00

    Hi, Ste J! You make this book all the more enticing, but so far I have been unable to locate it on my library websites. Got to keep trying, it sounds like a very moving and evocative read.

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    • Ste J

      02/12/2015 at 14:58

      If all else fails I will send you a copy my friend.

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  11. Resa

    01/12/2015 at 21:36

    What a great review! Another author I don’t know. I’m thinking my reading time needs more variation.

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    • Ste J

      02/12/2015 at 15:30

      There really is so much great stuff out there that you can’t fail to find something amazing, which reminds me that this is meant to be a book review blog so I should get on with doing that in the near future, lol.

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      • Resa

        02/12/2015 at 17:47

        You do lots of reviews! Honestly, you must read in your sleep. I can’t read when I’m working because I am helping make a story from script form, which we shoot out of order. Plus there are daily script revisions. I need to focus on that one story of I will get confused.
        I do love Joy Fielding’a work. I’ve read most of her books, perhaps all. I catch up between shows, and do read some of the works of Blog pals. I’m reading “Conversations With Death” right now. It is written by one of my Blog pals. (It’s dark & humorous)

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        • Ste J

          02/12/2015 at 20:32

          I shall look up these books, I’m always excited to find new authors. Recently I haven’t done as many reviews as usual but I will get back into it once I finish with Berlin I will get back onto them, giving Christmas ideas is always a good thing as well, like a public service or something.

          I can imagine that you need your focus, I have been doing some editing recently and it is difficult to switch off sometimes and get into something different. Once I finish the last one I have I will be able to read a lot more, which is my idea of bliss.

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          • Resa

            02/12/2015 at 21:39

            Joy Fielding is a best selling Canadian author & has made the New York Times best sellers list! (We are cousins, removed, so I may be biased, but not altogether) Grand Avenue is my Fave by her!

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            • Ste J

              03/12/2015 at 15:53

              A bit of bias is a good thing, the fact that she is a bestseller as well always helps!

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  12. Sherri

    04/12/2015 at 09:33

    Powerful read, beautiful cover, excellent review. I feel the pull just from your excerpts. Thank you Ste for this.

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    • Ste J

      04/12/2015 at 18:42

      In Bingo parlance, I believe that is a full house! I always like to put some quotations when I find something that makes me pause and read again. You can’t go wrong with our Irène.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Jeff

    12/12/2015 at 11:21

    I shall keep an eye out for a preview read. War fiction that deviates from the standard male bonding narrative and engages with life for most of the population is a good thing, even when, as in this case, it’s between wars. I quite like Practicalities by Marguerite Duras. Very short pieces – hard to tell what’s fiction and what’s essay sometimes.

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    • Ste J

      14/12/2015 at 15:41

      There is some World War One action but the majority is away from the front line before going into the post war repercussions. It is refreshing to come across books that show the worse side of humanity in making a profit off the carnage of war, which resonates today, sadly some things are timeless. I shall add Duras to my wish list, I feel so under read whenever we chat and speaking of that I shall be getting around to your emails soon.

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      • Jeff

        14/12/2015 at 17:24

        Exploitation is a side to the ghettoes that was suppressed for a long time. It’s now spoken of in respect of how war brings out the worst as well as the best in people. Similarly with atrocities committed by the Allies.
        You have very unblokey choices in reading. This can only be a good thing. Then again, I can’t help but wrestle with watching the occasional war action movie / drama. It’s balance. I once listened to a podcast in which an author admitted that his two favourite films were Stalker and Where Eagles Dare. I have a golden rule. If the line ‘C’mon, men’ appears, it’s a story that can’t be taken seriously.

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        • Ste J

          14/12/2015 at 17:46

          I do enjoy the occasional Commando comic book for old times sake. I did used to refrain from stuff with emotions in and what not but to carry on doing that would be to limit my choices of amazing literature. I do love to watch The Guns of Navarone whenever I come across the DVD and contrary to most people I’ve spoken to, I actually prefer The Thin red line to Saving Private Ryan.

          In times of war, there is so much mercenary behaviour, it puts the spirit of the blitz into context at least. It does surprise me that governments still try to hide their own inept atrocities when in these days of smart phone filming and such it’s on Youtube before they can draft a denial

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