Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

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Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A young man found dead in a mill stream brings back memories of youthful passions. The village appears calm on the surface but even the purest have secrets they'd prefer stayed hidden. Highly recommended by The Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099516095

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It seems that Irène Némirovsky had been well aware of her likely fate for some time. With great presence of mind she packed a suitcase with her manuscripts and notebooks before she was arrested and spirited off to Auschwitz in July 1942. Her husband had usually typed up her drafts and until recently it was thought that all that existed of Fire in the Blood was the two pages which he'd typed. It wasn't until Olivier Philipponat and Patrick Lienhardt, who had been commissioned to write a biography of the author, began their researches into Némirovsky's archive that the more complete manuscript came to light. Némirovsky begun the novel in 1938 and was still reworking it when she was arrested, but nevertheless it is a remarkable piece, with little feeling of being 'work in progress'.

Sylvestre is generally known as Silvio because a beautiful woman once thought that he looked like a gondolier, but those days are long gone and he's now content to live a much quieter life in a village deep in the heart of rural France. It is, in fact, the village of Issy-l'Evêque, where Némirovsky had lived since she left Paris and many of the buildings mentioned are there today. It's tempting to wonder if Némirovsky would have changed any of this before publication, but fascinating to see the source of her inspiration.

As the story begins, Silvio's cousin Hélène has come to his rather primitive home with her daughter, Colette, to introduce Colette's fiancé. Colette longs to have a marriage as perfect as that of her parents. Her mother had been married before, to an older man, but she married François after his death and now has three children.

The book begins gently, almost lyrically as the scene is set. It's a wonderful picture of the local paysan way of life with everyone living on their own land and mistrusting everyone else. Gradually the story picks up pace and the death of a young man in a mill stream brings memories of youthful passions which might have been better left buried. The village which looks so peaceful on the surface has a mass of secrets hidden beneath and often it's those who seem most pure and untainted who have the most to hide. The heart of the village seems almost malicious.

It's a relatively short book at only 176 pages, but it's tightly written and with some very satisfying and unexpected twists in the plot. On a couple of occasions I gasped in surprise, but all the clues were there had I but spotted them. The writing is elegant and spare, with an excellent translation by Sandra Smith.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy elegantly written, short books then we're sure that you'll also like The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

Buy Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky at Amazon.com.


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