“Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky

“Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky – 129 pages

“Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky is a novel which is indirectly about arranged marriages.  Nemirovsky describes how once a year in the small villages in central France there would be a dinner party where all the women eligible for marriage and all the men wanting to get married would congregate.  All of the marriage-eligible women would be recognizable by their dresses which would be some shade of pink. The parents of the eligible women would be their also.

The parents wanted what was best for their daughters.  Some of the men who would show up for the dinners would be quite old, either widowers or quite old bachelors.  Some of these older men would be quite well off, having established solid careers.  Some of the parents thought that they could settle their daughters into very comfortable circumstances.  The daughter would have a fine house, perhaps a little land, and none of the financial worries the parents themselves may have had.  So the marriage would be agreed upon and would take place soon thereafter, and the daughter would be comfortably settled.  The only thing that the parents did not take into consideration is ‘fire in the blood’.

There would always be a few young men in the neighborhood ready to prey on exactly these circumstances, a young woman stuck with an older man.  That is really the subject of Nemirovsky’s novel.   The focus is not only on the young woman and these preying men, but also on the parents.  By the age of forty or fifty, these parents may have settled into a life that is pleasant and placid, everyone seeming to have forgotten that they too had been young and they too had ‘fire in the blood’. 

I, like most of the rest of the world, discovered the novelist Irene Nemirovsky when her novel ‘Suite Francaise’ was published.  That novel was written by Irene Nemirovsky just before she was sent to Auschwitz and murdered in 1942 at the age of 39.  That powerful novel was written under extreme circumstances as the Nazis began their occupation of France.

 “Fire in the Blood” is completely different, a sunny rural and small town story set in central France.   The story is told by an outsider, a middle-aged male friend of the family who always just happens to be at the right place at the right time as the events in the story unfold. 

Isn’t it funny how the making and breaking of literary reputations occurs?  First there are those writers who establish themselves at a young age, and everyone pays attention to each new book they release.  These writers have one kind of pressure, the pressure of having to live up to an early success.  Some of these writers are important up until they quit writing, and then they fade into obscurity.  Then there are writers who labor in near obscurity their entire writing lives and remain in obscurity thereafter.   Then there are writers like Dawn Powell and Irene Nemirovsky and Stefan Zweig and others who were somewhat famous during their lives, but either slowly or suddenly are rediscovered and soon their reputations far surpass many of the established writers of that era.  In Irene Nemirovsky’s case, her daughter discovered her unpublished original manuscript for ‘Suite Francaise’ in a box, finally realized its importance, and did what was necessary.  Thus the literary history of bygone eras is constantly changing, and hopefully finally some justice is achieved.

‘Fire in the Blood’ is a spirited novel of French country life, Irene Nemirovsky at her best.    I am very much looking forward to reading the book of her stories which was recently released, “Dimanche and other Stories”.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. This is an author I have not yet read, but have recently begun meaning to do so. Thanks for keeping her on the radar and bumping her up a bit. I probably will start with the, apparently, more significant Suite Francaise. I really enjoyed the review, including the biographical details.

    I do find interesting the different trajectories of fame/recognition, particularly with respect to authors. Probably, I am not particularly unique in really like the idea of authors who labored in obscurity for years to be “discovered” late in their lives or, not so happily, after they have died. It breaks my heart, though, when an author I think is brilliant seems to slide back into obscurity after a fleeting moment of fame. Life is unfair. Particularly to the deserving and to the undeserving.

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    • Hi Kerry,
      I too like to see authors who are nearly unknown but are very good get some recognition. Our blogs can have at least some effect on who gets remembered and acclaimed. I particularly enjoy when some writer I read years ago gets written up as someone who was obscure, but the blogger has just discovered.

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  2. It’s embarrassing not to have read Irene Nemirovsky. Suite Francais was chosen for my book group a few years ago (but I missed it), I’ve read nothing but praise for her work, and yet I’ve felt a strange reluctance to read her. I worried that it would be too intense, and this sounds like a much better novel for me to start with. I’ll reserve it at the library.

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    • Hi Mad Housewife,
      I’ve also read “David Golder” and “The Ball” by Irene Nemirovsky, and I enjoed both of those books too. It’s very easy to enjoy her sunny rural French novels over the Holocaust novel.

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  3. I’ve not read Irene Nemirovsky. I remember all the fuss and fanfare when Suite Francaise was published and it seemed like every second blogger was reviewing it. I thought I’d wait until the mayhem had died down, then read it and review it. Meantime, it seems like every other book she has ever written has now been republished and she’s everywhere. And I still haven’t read that first book! I must rectify that situation soon.

    I always wonder who gets the money when authors reap success posthumously. Is it their family? The publisher?

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    • Hi Kimbofo,
      Especially in the case of “Suite Francaise” and “Fire in the Blood”, both of which were unpublished until the 2000s, I would imagine the copyright laws would be the same as for any other book published in the 2000s, and the royalties would go to the family. The olther Nemirovsky books were published in the 1930s, and I don’t know how long a copyright applies.

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  4. […] Irene Nemirovsky, from Fire in the Blood:  A Novel (Nemirovsky was killed in Auschwitz, not long after she wrote this passage — the novel has a […]

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