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Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky - Review

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This book was the October choice for my book club, so I bought it on eBay for a few quid. As I've read the book, I've offered it to people in my book club so someone can borrow it. We often do that with books so that not everyone has to buy it, and I guess it cuts down on unnecessary purchasing of books. I'll be putting it in the post to Jane tomorrow!

Margaret chose this book; she often chooses small books that I end up loving, like Mother's Day by Graham Swift which I thought was brilliant. I have read Nemirovsky before, I read Suite Francaise about ten years ago and really liked it. So I was really looking forward to this one. If you don't know Nemirovsky, she was a Russian Jew who fled Russia after the revolution and settled in France, but never got citizenship. She converted to Roman Catholicism, although may have done that to try to escape the Nazis, but was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she was killed. She left behind several notebooks which contained beginnings of books, or notes and outlines, of which Fire in the Blood was one. It was published in 2007.

It's set in rural France, in the years leading up to World War II. It's set in the same village as Suite Francaise, actually, which I liked and found familiar. Sylvestre, also known as Silvio, is an old man, living in a small cabin in the forest, having sold off most of his family land in years gone by. He has some family - his cousin, Helene, and her husband Francois. They have a good, companionable marriage. Their daughter, Colette, is about to be married, to Jean. She worships her parents' relationship and wants the same for herself, but she and Jean are somewhat unmatched.

Helene's stepsister Cecile had an adopted daughter, Brigitte, who is married to a man many years older than her, who is dying. She had an unhappy childhood and married M. Declos to try to escape that. She is having an affair with a man called Marc.

As relationships unravel and time goes on, lots of secrets from the past come back, upsetting Silvio's measured life and changing everything about each character. I liked Silvio and felt quite sympathetic towards him. The depiction of French rural life, where everyone knows everyone's business and that of all their families, is brilliant. I liked how Silvio was an outsider while also being trapped in the milieu.

There are parts of this book that are really short, chapters cut off, time skips of a year or more, and I guess there's no way in knowing whether that's because Nemirovsky didn't get chance to complete the book, or whether she intended it that way. I liked it, I liked how the narrative galloped in such a way, but I do wonder how Nemirovsky would have felt over the book as a whole in its form now.

I can't wait to find out what everyone in my book club thought of it too. I really liked it and am giving it four out of five.

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