Book review – Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

This novel was the set text of a book group I attend.


I struggled with it from the outset.

But because it was a set text I kept up my struggle, battled on with it long after I would have given up on a novel-of-choice.

From the very first page I found it difficult to frame.

Suite Francaise is a fictionalised story of a group of characters set against the backdrop of the early days of the Second World War in France.

I tried to read it in the mental setting of the novel that it purports to be, but felt uncomfortable with it in this light.

My head kept trying to position the work as if it were a factional narrative, something along the lines of a ‘Diary of Anne Frank‘ kind of work…

But this too felt uncomfortable.

There is no doubting the sheer horror of the story of the persecution of the French Jews (by the French, implicitly, as well as by the Germans) that lies behind this fictionalised account.

There is also no doubting the sweeping vista that the authoress had intended Suite Francaise to become; five distinct tales set within the framework of a classical symphony, each with a differently paced-movement, Allegro, Andante…

We shall never know the pace of – or melody behind – the other movements because Irene Nemirovsky perished in an entirely predictable, tragic manner, long before she could finish creating her planned scenes, characters and settings.

I did wonder if it was the fictionalisation of the tale that made the book such a difficult read.

And then I slept on it and the next day remembered the two versions of ‘War and Peace‘ I’ve read.

The first was an early translation that had the feel of an old black and white move: strong atmosphere but stiff characters, stilted dialogue, seemingly cardboard-constructed settings.

The second – and much later – translation felt far more comfortable. Yes it had depth and character but it was as if the scenes somehow had removed their corsets; they became softer, less wooden, not as formal.

This makes me wonder if a different translation of Suite Francaise might find what, for me, this version is missing.

One thought on “Book review – Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

  1. Hmmm, you’re making me feel like a philistine..which I’m not (honest); but shouldn’t a book be actually enjoyable?

    If an author cannot lift their reader up and take them with them doesn’t that just sday the book is not very good?

    I say that, being someone who finds it extraordinarily hard to not finish a book, no matter how much I’m not enjoying it!

    This is because I live in hope that it might get better; always scared of what I might be missing out on!

    I think you’re giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt – well done you!

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