ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS

More buried treasure from the French author killed at Auschwitz in 1942 and re-discovered in 2006; this story of a middle-class family roiled by love and war was posthumously published in 1947.

Saint-Elme in Normandy is a company town that revolves around a paper factory owned by the Hardelots. Their patriarch in the early 20th century is Julien, a domestic tyrant who has arranged the marriage of his grandson Pierre to the wealthy orphan Simone. Stability and propriety—these are his watchwords. But he has misjudged the spirited Pierre, in love with the equally spirited but less socially elevated Agnès, also being married off. The pleasure here comes from Némirovsky’s dissection of the haute bourgeoisie: she knows these people, their secret selves. Gossip spreads about the lovers’ innocent goodbyes in the woods. A scandal! Both engagements are broken off. Julien disowns his grandson; Pierre marries Agnès in Paris, a haven from the stifling conventions of Saint-Elme. Némirovsky excels at mordant characterizations, but her depiction of devoted couples is equally convincing, and these young people, romantic realists, make a marriage strong enough to survive a chaotic future; it anchors the novel. That chaos arrives with World War I. Roads are choked with refugees. Saint-Elme and its factory are destroyed, but Julien rebuilds and reconciles with Pierre, for the boy has fought a good war. The inter-war years see Pierre’s discarded fiancée Simone emerge as a power at the factory (capital counts), though her own marriage is difficult. Her rebellious daughter will fall for Pierre’s son Guy, another potential scandal. All too soon war returns, Saint-Elme and the factory are destroyed again, but Pierre and Agnès rise to the occasion. The novel has its flaws. Some characters are undeveloped; the final section is rushed. Yet they are more than outweighed by the author’s almost Tolstoyan sweep, and her vision of a society refracted through one family under siege. For English-language readers, the best introduction to Némirovsky’s work.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-74329-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2011

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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