I bought Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky ages ago, full of enthusiasm to read it at once. I read a few pages and then for some unknown reason left it lying around unread. A few weeks ago I borrowed Fire in the Blood from my local library and once I started to read it I just had to finish it. Now I’ll have to read Suite Francaise as soon as possible.
Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903 and fled the Russian Revolution for France where she became a best selling novelist. She moved from Paris just before the German occupation in 1940 and went to live in the small village of Issy-l’Eveque (in German occupied territory). She was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz where she died in August 1942.
Fire in the Blood is set in a small village based on Issy-l’Eveque between the two world wars. The narrator is Silvio looking back on his life and gradually secrets that have long been hidden rise to the surface, disrupting the lives of the small community. The people are insular, concerned only with their own lives, distrusting their neighbours. All Silvio wants now is a quiet life, but he cannot avoid being drawn into helping Colette, his cousin Helene’ s daughter, when her husband Jean is found drowned in the mill stream.
Although only a short book (153 pages) it is an intense story of life and death, love and burning passion. It’s about families and their relationships – husbands and wives, young women married to old men, lovers, mothers, daughters and stepdaughters. Silvio in his old age feels rejected by life and lonely. In his youth he had travelled the world, seeking his fortune, propelled by the fire in his blood. Now his passions are extinguished and he no longer knows who he is. He remembers :
When you’re twenty love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it’s over you can hardly remember how it happened … Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out. Faced with this blaze of dreams and desires, I felt so old, so cold, so wise. (page 45)
The flesh is easy to satisfy. It’s the heart that is insatiable, the heart that needs to love, to despair, to burn with any kind of fire … That was what we wanted. To burn, to be consumed, to devour our days just as fire devours the forest. (page 152)
The characters are drawn with simplicity and detachment, but this is deceptive as there are layers upon layers and there is a brooding, silent and haunting atmosphere, almost menacing as the truth emerges. Added to this is the writing itself full of rich descriptive passages of the land and the people. It is indeed a gem of a book.