Ah here. They’re at it again. The French. They just can’t leave the bourgeoisie alone.
I was reading another posthumously published Némirovsky, All Our Wordly Goods (Les Biens de ce Monde, 1947). Here she is laying in to them. The scene is an engagement dinner:
Their families surrounded them, forming a king of guard of honour, a solid barricade mounted by wealthy men with large, healthy bodies who had invested in government bonds and intended to protect the young people from the pitfalls of destiny, and their own desires, for ever.
The bourgeoisie say things “disapprovingly”. They feel better when their holiday is over and they’re home, away from “excessive seaside distractions”. They invest in government bonds and try to contain the passions of their children.
They are not like the people who stay further down the coast, in luxury hotel. Those people dance and gamble till dawn. Those gentlemen dress for dinner and those ladies go riding every day.
I felt like I was “reading a novel”.
This is what people who don’t like reading novels must feel when they read one. It’s a family saga by numbers. The little provincial town. The big fish in the small pond who own some wealth-generating interest. The tyrannical family patriarch. The young lovers. The “claustrophobic” values of their society. And of course, it’s “evocative and beautifully paced” and it’s “taut” and there is “sly humour”. But in case you don’t want too much sly humour rest easy that there is “clear-eyed compassion” too.
So there you go.
The novel starts around 1910 and carries itself along to the German occupation of France in 1940. She writes a lovely passage, set in 1938, on how people lived their daily lives under the constant fear of war:
And still people carried on living as they always had. They hosted grand dinners, […] sliced the truffled foie gras and imagined future wars as if they were right in the middle of them. […] The women shook their heads and murmured, ‘Awful, just awful…’ while thinking, ‘I should have worn my pink dress. How annoying…I’m underdressed.’ They were predicting the Cabinet would collapse on Monday. The maids served the ice cream on crystal dishes with little gold-plated spoons. Someone announced that a trustworthy source had told him that Hitler would be sending his troops to the Ukraine in the spring. […] People got married, died, brought children into the world.
Taut, and beautifully paced.