Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky is a funny little book. Although twisting in its plot, it is rather straightforward in its twists, and I thought I had it all figured out when I finished reading. I had its two main points summed up, but there was just one problem-- that these two main points were entirely contradictory, and so I delved further into the text to try to solve this problem, and discovered there is a whole lot going on in this novel than what I'd first assumed.

My experience being quite analogous to the story, a similar theme to Suite Française-- that rural tranquility can belie all variety of human drama, and that even in Arcadia, there be-- in addition to death-- murder in particular, and love, and lust, and secrets and lies.

Fire in the Blood is narrated by Silvio, structured as a notebook, as he observes the passage of time during the autumn of his life. The novel beginning upon his young niece Colette's engagement, and he reflects upon her happiness, "the fire in her blood" that he remembers from his own youth. That seems so distant from him now, so much so that he supposes if he ever happened to meet his young self, he wouldn't even recognize him. The past is past, and he is old, and, as his cousin remarks to him, "My god, if only one could know at twenty how simple life is..."

This is a novel quite obvious in its imagery, full of images of burning and fever, of fire and flame. This sort of energy similar to "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower", I suppose, Silvio's cousin remarking to him, "Ah, dear friend, when something happens in life, do you ever think about the moment that caused it, the seed from which it grew?... Imagine a field being sowed and all the promise that's contained in a grain of wheat, all the future harvests..."

When Colette's husband is murdered, however, and the points of a complicated love triangle become clear, notions of "promise" become dark and ominous. Raising questions of chance or destiny, what happens to our fire, how the past changes as it gets away, and that youth is eternal, always the same, that promise. Silvio asking, "But who would bother to sow his fields if he knew in advance what the harvest would bring?" but still we do, knowing full well what the end is.

This story's simplicity is deceptive, and perhaps undermined by the fact of this book's history. Némirovsky's own story being well known, as well as the story of Suite Française and its remarkable discovery. Fire in the Blood has similar origins, part of it thought missing for years and only found quite recently among the author's other papers. And it is clear to me that this novel wasn't finished, wasn't quite polished, for though the writing is strong (this partly due to translator Sandra Smith, of course), the novel's structure is clunky and fragmented. Not to the point where the reading is compromised, but the effect is not that of the greatness that was so evident from Suite Française. This being wholly understandable within its context, and so the context becomes necessary, enhancing. This reader being grateful for the author still having sowed her seeds.