The Fires of Autumn - Irène Némirovsky

THE NEGOTIATIONS FOR the aeroplane parts that had begun in 1936 were only concluded two years later: the engineers had stated that the American parts were not suitable for French planes. The question was discussed in Parliament. ‘I’ll deal with Parliament,’ Raymond Détang had said. ‘We’ll sort it out one morning when the benches are empty. We won’t allow those troublemakers to prevent us from making a pretty packet. Why should I worry about the engineers? They’re specialists, and specialists only ever see their side of a problem. This is much greater, on a much bigger scale than they could imagine.

I have not read Nermirovsky’s Suite Francaise. To be honest, the hype around the book put me off. However, I did watch the movie (because, erm, Kristin Scott Thomas…) and have been intrigued by Nemirovsky’s writing ever since. Just not about Suite Francaise, which by now would be rather pointless because the plot no longer holds any interest for me.

Anyway. I picked up The Fires of Autumn from the library and once I started reading, I was drawn deeply into the world of Nemirovsky’s Paris of the early part of the 20th century. The book started out as a family saga and a portrait of Paris society but then the plot turned into the war years (WWI) and we saw the characters develop by having to deal with the war and the emergence of the inter-war society with its decadence and thrills, and yet, the undercurrent of doom.

Eventually, the characters are thrown into the next war. And this is where I found the book utterly gripping.

The book was written in 1940 and, as we know, Nemirovsky never saw the end of the war. So, her descriptions of the life in France during the war, her descriptions of the war from the perspective of the soldiers are written by someone who didn’t know which way the war was going to end. There is no all-knowing perspective and no hindsight, and this makes the writing very, very tense in the final chapters. Tense but not hopeless.

While I love a book that thrives on plot, this is not the case with The Fires of Autumn. The book thrives on the characters and the description of the changing times that the characters act within, and still, it was a fascinating read.

THE ARMY WAS beaten in Flanders, beaten at Dunkirk, beaten on the banks of the Aisne. There were no supplies left. It was only the civilians who clung to insurmountable hope in their hearts; in the cafés in the Lot-et-Garonne, they even tried to establish an imaginary line of defence south of the Loire, but the soldiers no longer had any illusions. The soldiers knew that the army had lost; they could even see the day approaching when there would be no more army, when amid the mass of an entire population in flight, soldiers would disappear, just as the debris of a ship sinks to the bottom of the sea during a storm.


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