Irene Nemirovsky has rapidly become critically untouchable.
Even my wretched confession on here about my temporary Suite Francaise failure generated passionate comments in support of the book and the author.I spent the day with head hung low because I hadn't immediately adored it and it's almost a given that you must.
There's a ground-swell of diverse and fascinating opinions on Irene Nemirovsky and I read this piece Truth, Lies and Anti-Semitism by Stuart Jeffries in yesterday's Guardian with great interest.It's a balanced and honest piece but he's a very brave man.Offering evidence that threatens to stain Irene Nemirovsky's reputation is a bit like suggesting Mother Teresa ran a house of ill repute but I'm pleased that someone is at least trying to get some balance and two-way discussion on all this.
Carmen Callil is not best pleased for a start.Having heard her speak passionately about her book Bad Faith, an expose of one of Vichy France's most despicable collaborators, I'm not in the least surprised to see she has mounted a sturdy defence of Irene Nemirovsky.
I was trying to read without buying into the back story but this would seem to be prohibited.When the first sentence waiting on opening a book of hers is "Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942" you know exactly what is expected of you as a reader.
It's like treading on egg shells trying to offer a balanced and critical opinion and John Self has done an excellent job of extracting the wheat from the chaff over on his blog
It seemed like a good idea to get hold of David Golder and read it quickly before I'd heard too much about it and, though it's a book whose content leaves me puzzled, I'm pleased to declare I may be on slightly better terms with Irene. However, if I read this through the same lenses I'm supposed to be wearing for Suite Francaise then the debate really does become very confusing.
Firstly I enjoyed it, a cover to cover read that kept me engrossed in a way that Suite Francaise hasn't yet.
David Golder himself, a thoroughly ruthless Jewish business man, a grotesque, unloved and unlovable character,
"shoulders wracked by a nervous, asthmatic cough, which filled his mouth with bitter phlegm...an enormous man in his late sixties...flabby arms and legs, piercing eyes the colour of water...a ravaged face so hard it looked as if it had been hewn from stone by a rough,clumsy hand."
Despite being blessed with a wife, her lover, and a daughter (who you really do want to slap) and their combined extravagent lifestyles to support, there was but one brief moment in the whole when I was allowed to feel any sympathy for David Golder and it was so brief that it could almost have gone unnoticed.
I'm more confused than ever about the to and fro debates surrounding Irene Nemirovsky's life and writing and about what she was doing with this her first book and I'm not alone it would seem.
Few if any redeeming features for her own kind in this book whatsoever.
But why should that bother us?
Carmen Callil argues that "our culture is now suffused with political correctness.She [Nemirovsky] didn't dislike Jews.She disliked some Jews." Callil goes on to suggest that "people have got to stop treating Jews as sacred."
That aside it's a brilliant delineation of the simultaneous power and vacuity of pre-war, pre-stockmarket -crash wealth and reminded me of that world so expertly described from the other side by Irmgard Keun in The Artificial Silk Girl.
Meanwhile, to prove how keen I am to revisit Suite Francaise and how much I know it will never happen with the current edition and THAT suitcase, I've ordered the original.
That's how daft and desperate I am.