The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky
|The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A book which is heavily autobiographical and perhaps not one of her best but still a good read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: October 2011|
|Publisher: Chatto & Windus|
Helene adores her father but hates her mother, who neglects her and sees her as nothing more than an inconvenience. She grows up with the realisation that the only way that her mother can hurt her is to sack her French governess – the only person who has ever tried to give Helene a stable upbringing. The winds of war blow them all from a fictional Kiev, to a harsh St Petersburg and on to a snowy Finland to end up – finally – in France at the end of the First World War. Helene's father has made a lot of money from mining in Siberia but whilst the family might have money – ridiculous amounts of it – they have nothing else.
As I read I couldn't help but feel that I knew the essence of this story. I recently read a biography of Nemirovsky and there could be little doubt that Bella Karol, Helene's mother, is based on Nemirovsky's mother and the moves around Europe and Russia much the same as Nemirovsky's family was forced to take. Even without knowing this, you could be left in no doubt that St Petersburg, Finland and France were familiar to Nemirovsky – and that's she's capable of bringing them off the page in remarkably few words.
Sandra Smith's translation of the original text is, as ever, brilliant. She also translated The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky.
I admired this book, but I'm not certain that I enjoyed it. Certain themes seemed familiar, not just from Nemirovsky's life abut also from her book Jezebel. I also found it difficult to warm to Helene in any way. She had the worst of upbringings, knew little in the way of familial affection and the result is someone who is hard as nails. The book is worth reading but there are other Nemirovsky novels which I'd go for first if your time is limited. My favourites are Fire in the Blood, published posthumously and The Dogs and the Wolves, a poignant love story. For more from Finland, try Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman.
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