I'm still slowly working my way through available Irene Nemirovsky's and this litle book, Le Bal which also contains Snow in Autumn was next on the shelf.
Two novellas it is possible to read in one sitting for each.
I've now had to look up the difference between a novella and a short story again and I'm still as confused as I ever was, though I think these both fit the novella definition
Le Bal has to be the nearest to an autobiographical yet fictional account of Irene's own troubled and distant relationship with her mother. Might writing this have purged Irene of any revenge she wished to wreak on her mother?
Antoinette Kampf is an impressionable Parisian teenager, the daughter of a German Jewish immigrant Alfred who converts to the Catholicism of his wife Rosine, she of the very uncertain background. Once unaccustomed wealth arrives via the Stock Market the couple enter into just about every misguided endeavour and pitfall that it is humanly possible for the nouveau riche to stumble upon.
To watch it happen from the wings as a reader is excruciating, both wry in the observation but in reality hopelessly sad.
Likewise Antoinette maintains a detachment from the follies of her parents whilst engaged in the particularly unpleasant all-out war she has with her mother. When Rosine decides to give a ball to affirm their position in Parisian society and, on the spur of the moment, Antoinette then settles on her revenge I was completely torn between feelings of glee at the come-uppance and mortification at Rosine's embarrassing fate which is inevitable.
This little story an object lesson in something we all know now and which still to an extent remains wrapped and tangled in the lasting remnants of class, money doesn't buy status and especially so in 1930s Paris, whilst the final little human twist of the knife, 'the surprising turning point' of the novella that Irene Nemirovsky offers at the end of this story, closes this little piece in a pitch perfect key.
Nicely contrasted is Snow in Autumn, still displaying those poignant underlying themes of exile and loss so intrinsic to Irene Nemirovsky's writing but in this case matters are reversed as the 'haves' become the 'have-nots' as the wealthy White Russian Karine family find themselves dispossessed and fleeing to Paris to escape persecution in their homeland in 1917. Told through the eyes of the faithful family nanny Tatiana who seems to observe so much more than the family themselves in much the same way as Antoinette.
Irene Nemirovsky seemingly so good, and the more I read the more I see it, at choosing exactly the right pair of well-placed eyes to see and tell her story, a writer capable of looking through many different windows as she constructs her House of Fiction.
Both these novellas confirming for me Jonathan Weiss's assertion that Irene's 'Russian and French selves were inseparable'. Like many of the upper class population Irene grew up in Russia speaking only French, the Russian language considered suitable only for the lower classes if I recall my Orlando Figes Natasha's Dance correctly, which along with the frequent fleeing into exile, though doubtless adding to confusion of identity, most certainly also prepared Irene to think and write across this broad and varied spectrum.
I'm going to have to ration soon, only two translated books left.