- Author: Irène Némirovsky ( 1903 – 1943)
- Genre: Novel (historical fiction)
- Title: Suite française ( title was chosen by the editors of the book in 2004. I cannot find any other references about this decision)
- Published: 2004
- Language: French
- Table of Contents: Temptêt en juin ( ch 1 – 30) – Dolce ( ch 1 – 22)
- Published by Folio books
- Cover: Author
- Setting: France: Paris, Tours and Orleans
- Timeline: based on France in World War II during the time the events occurred
- Themes: upheaval of everyday life due to the ravages of war; everyone is the same; privileges of class disappear
- Trivia: Russian-born Jewish author, who quickly rose to literary celebrity in her adopted France. But her fame was not enough to save her. After the German occupation of the northern parts of France, Nemirovsky went into hiding in the so-called free Vichy zone. She was detained in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz, where she was killed.
- Trivia: Book received the Prix Renaudot in 2004.
- Suite française depicts in the beginning of the novel the exodus of Parisians June 1940 to the countryside after enduring air raids, blackouts and the distant noise of bombs.
- Families rich or poor are struggling to find a means so escape. It is a population on the run.
- Graduallly the enemy takes possession of this stunned country, France. Like many villages Bussy is forced to welcome the German troops.
- Appaled by the presence of the occupier, social tensions rise, people are frustrated.
- Némirovsky reveals with her ‘plume brillante’ the souls of Frenchmen during the German siege.
Némirovsky described the social classes through the actions and thoughts of her characters:
- haute-bourgeoisie: Madame and Monsieur Pericand — wealthy couple whose son is a priest, devout Catholics who betray the shallowness of their faith when their world begins to collapse around their ears. Philippe Pericand , the son is a Catholic priest, and the pride of the Pericand family, yet in the end he is a pathetic failure.
- bourgeoisie: Gabriel Cortes and Florence — mismatched couple. Gabriel Corte( weak, scornful), and his mistress who, in the increasing panic and chaos, begins to drop her well-bred mask and reveals (to her lover’s horror) her common origins
- oeuvriers: Jeanne and Maurice Michaud — working class couple from Paris, salt of the earth types whose fundamental decency shines bright. Jean-Marie Michaud, their son, soldier injured in battle and taken care of by a family in the countryside. Jean-Marie Michaud is the ‘linking pin” between part 1 and part 2 of the book.
- haute-bourgeoisie: Charles Langelet — snobby, stingy, valuing his porcelain more than his friends (pg 183), nailing cases closed so the concierge cannot see his possessions, and even stealing from fellow refugees. (pg 192)
- fuel: is the commodity that removes the differences between the “have’s ” and the “have-not’s “. Everyone needs it and cannot find it!
- make-up etui ( ch 3): Florence leaves this behind in Paris, foreshadowing that she will later ‘remove her mask’ to reveal her true self
- Nature’s peacefulness contrasts with the scenes of terror and selfishness during the exodus out of Paris. (appearing vs being)
- Hubert’s zeal to defend the country rather than flee impresses his parents, but later we see him breaking down in childish tears upon hearing that all is lost. (pg 49) (appearing vs being)
- Curé Phillipe Pericand is a clergyman who represents humility and willingness to console/help others. In truth he abhors his flock of children that he must guide to safety (pg 61) (exterior vs interior)
- Mme Angellier: is rich but would rather be shot than give her bottles of bourgogne to a German. A rich person who is a miser. (appearing vs being) (pg 477)
- Dolce: The title of part two refers to something ‘sweet, peacful’ with the word dolce. The narrative is the opposite, dark, suspenseful and murder. Writers often use this technique. Vestdijk named his book Pastorale 1943 about a war torn village in The Netherlands. Conrad used the word “LORD” ( regal, honorable) in the title of Lord Jim. When one reads the book we see the word ‘LORD’ refers to an a man racked with guilt about his dishonorable actions.
- Actions – Mme Pericand is a stoic: leaves the room with her head held high and will not buckle under the heavy burden (must leave her son in Paris, Phillipe) (pg 48)
- Actions – Florence is a sycophant, a servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor from Gabriel Corte. kneeling in front of him [..] in a posture of adoration ( pg 51)
- Manner – Mme Pericand leads with an iron hand (“menait d’une main de fer”)
- Thoughts – Mme Pericand looks down on the lower classes: ( pg 40) “not bad, if you know how to take them” (servants); tone as if she were speaking to animals in a cage
- Thoughts – Marcel (valet): sighs, hardly perceptible, thinks Gabriel and Florence act like confused animals who sniff danger (pg 55) (“..les bêtes flairent le danger”.)
Animals mimic characters: ( Zola used this technique in La Fortune des Rougon)
- Cat with bony fishbone represents the bourgeoisie = cat does not know what to do with this ‘danger’: swallow it ( fear) or spit it out ( regret) (pg 37)
- Gabriel (writer) compares Florence = heifer with soft white body ( pg 51)
- Marcel (valet) = compares Gabriel and Florence to white greyhounds…but without spirit. (pg 55)
What are Némirovsky’s thoughts about the war in the book?
- Gabriel Corte echos Némirovsky’s thoughts about the war in the book (pg 53)
- He is a writer who feels the war threatens his life as his peace of mind, It destroys his inspiration to write.
- War is like the sound of a discordant trumpet that makes the crystal partion that he has built up between himself and the outside world suddenly collapse.
- Charles Langelet has the same intentions as Némirovsky did: I will go to a quiet place in the country, live with those close to me and wait until the powers that be regain their senses. (pg 79)
- Hated it; barely got through first few chapters; could not finish; leads up to nothing; and unfinished blah!
- These are a few of the first lines of reviews I found on Goodreads.
- Stunned by these reactions I started reading the book myself in French ( nothing lost in translation) .
- I have learned not to judge a book by its cover or reviews!
- Suite Francaise was a book about how people are changed by catastrophe.
- Némirovsky’s intention was to expose the hidden ‘dark side’ of the characters who were put to the test during the German occupation of France.
- She succeeds admirably.
- If you want characters that intrigue with their secret complexity than this is your book.
- Strong point: This book was an excellent example of a writer’s skill: setting, foreshadowing, characterisation. The structure of story reminded me of the movie Les Uns et les Autres (1972). The main event was the Second World War which throws the stories of the four families together and mixes their fates.
- Strong point: This is an excellent book to read in French because Némirovsky ‘s writing is poetic and colloquial at the same time.
- Weak point: Némirovsky can someitmes get carried away with the ‘poetic’. Too much of a good thing can be tiresome in the end.
- Last thoughts: If Irène Némirovsky can learn French as a second language, so can I !