22 Apr 2015

REVIEW: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Title: Suite Française
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Publication Date: August 4th 2011 (Originally published 2004)
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416
Rating: 5/5

In June 1940 France fell to the Nazis. The effect of this event on the lives of ordinary Parisians and the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation are brilliantly explored in Irène Némirovsky's heartbreaking novel. A tragic victim of the Nazi regime, Némirovsky left behind this masterpiece in which she conjures up a vivid cast of characters, thrown together in ways they never expected. Amidst the mess of defeat, true nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Before reading Suite Française, I knew next to nothing about it. I’d seen the trailer more than a couple of times, but that is only half of the novel. I feel like this isn’t talked about nearly as much as it deserves to be.

Suite Française was going to be a five part novel that would explore life in France following June 1940 and the German invasion. Unfortunately, only two parts were completed at the time of Irène Némirovsky's death in August 1942 in Auschwitz. Irène s daughter held onto the manuscript for 50 years, believing it to be a personal diary of her mother’s before it was finally published in 2004.

The first part, Storm in June, looks into the world of various families and individuals as they flee Paris as the German armies advance. Each story is different, despite them all being intertwined in some way. It wasn’t my favourite part because there were very few characters I actually cared for (I believe this was done on purpose).

I absolutely adore WWII novels, so this probably comes as no surprise to any of you that this is a new favourite. The main reason for that is the writing — from the very first page, I was completely in love with the writing — it is absolutely heartbreaking, even in describing the simplest things. I’d already teared up about five times by the end of that first part.

The second part is what did it for me. Dolce focuses on the one little French village called Bussy, which has been occupied by German soldiers. These German soldiers live in with the town people, many of whom have husbands and sons and lovers being held as prisoners of war — you can imagine the tension. The story focuses on a few different women, my favourite of which was Lucile who is living with her mother in law and her husband is one of the captured men. One of the German officers, Bruno, moves into their home and the story goes from there.

The thing is, Bruno is not portrayed as the typical brute, unfeeling German solider. He wanted to be a musician before the war, and he goes out of his way to be kind to Lucile and her mother in law. You can imagine the feels that resulted from that.

For whatever reason, I started part two before bed, which was possibly the stupidest idea I ever had. I literally had to pull myself away from the book so that I could actually get some sleep but I spent the entire night thinking about the book. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that strongly about a book, even in my dreams I wanted to pick up the book.

Like most unfinished books, when I got to the end I just stared at the final pages for a while in disbelief. No, it couldn’t end there. Luckily, in my edition, they’ve included notes that Némirovsky made so you could see where she was planning to go with the other three novellas. Oh god, you don’t understand how much I wish she’d lived long enough to write them. Again, luckily, this isn’t her only novel — and yes, I have already added all the others to my wishlist on the Book Depository.

Now, if you excuse me I’m going to go back to crying about this book in my University café.