Thursday, June 08, 2006

Suite F gets A

The reception of Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française continues to perplex me. The Literary Saloon offers background information and a review in which it is given A. And Conversational Reading says it's "one of the best things I've read in a while."

I hope it was a short while. From the descriptions, it sounds like an old-fashioned novel distinctive only because of its remarkable back story - one to be politely admired perhaps as a document in itself and an echo of an absence - but as an important novel? And, what's more, a novel that, as the Saloon reports, "has a metascore of 95/100 at - putting it tops among all the works of fiction they've covered to date."

Here's a quotation from that top-rate fiction:
He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. It continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he'd taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.
Are they kidding?


  1. Anonymous10:13 pm

    I've resigned myself to the fact that 99% of litbloggers have no literary sensibility or sophistication whatsoever (especially that Esposito fellow). It's like a pretty leaf collection, a dime a dozen, always a new butterfly, etc. for them collectors. And when they do risk independent thought on something - provided it's not just a matter of following Oprah - they're always wrong.

  2. It was originally written in French, and that quote looks like a translation nightmare to me. I haven't read the book so cannot comment properly, but often translations can make for very awkward sounding prose.

  3. Anonymous10:23 pm

    Might it not be a good idea to read the book rather than vacuously complaining about its reception?

  4. It is an old fashioned novel, but it's distinguished by much more than its story. The quote you put up notwithstanding, the prose is excellent.

  5. Anonymous1:25 am

    I haven't read the book, but I it's dishonest to badmouth a book before reading it. Having read many cheap translations over the years, I can tell you that an awkward "continually destroyed" or "shrill, brutal trumpet shattering" is pretty par for the course.

  6. Honestly, Steve, I don't get you. You see to be a very bright guy who knows a lot about literature, but then you'll do something childish like badmouth a book on the strength of one quote just because a lot of people like it.

  7. I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisiton.

    Did I say I judged it on one quote?! That was an example provided in the LS's review - one of many of that quality. I was merely picking one of them. Any could have sufficed.

    Also, I think the innumberable reviews have given a pretty good idea of what it's like. I'm prepared to accept, as I said, that it's an interesting book for various reasons *but not as a novel*. That's the impression. My blog was only an impression. I wasn't writing a review, just a light-and-heavy hearted blog.

    As for reading it - this really is an old chestnut that needs cracking. Do I need to go to the Arctic to know that it's cold as everyone says? I'd rather explore new territory.

  8. And anyway, it's that of narrating that really gets me. That "he was the kind of person who ..." type of telling. If it's embedded, OK, but you'd soon notice, you'd soon be told by a competent reviewer. SF has had enough of them. It's not the translation.

    On the BBC review show they wetted themselves comparing SF to Tolstoy, as if we need novels like Tolstoy now. We have Tolstoy's. That's enough. And I'm not saying this book is rubbish, simply that it's a marketing phenomenon rather than a literary one, and its overrating perhaps indicates a atavistic trait in reviewers toward sentimentality, naivete and conservatism.

    If this is childish, fine. Part of knowing about literature is knowing how it sucks.

  9. Finally we get some details. Why didn't you say this stuff to begin with? Regarding the Tolstoy charge, it's definitely not as good as Tolstoy, but, yes, it is in his model. Do we have enough Tolstoy already? Probably. But I like those kinds of books, so I don't take this as much of a criticism.

    And, yes, you can say the Arctic is cold without having traveled there. Personally, though, I don't think that tells us much of interest about the Arctic. Also, I'd say that saying "the Arctic sucks because it's cold" without having ever seen it for yourself would be smallminded. Admittedly, though, we all have dissed books we haven't read.

  10. Anonymous4:29 am

    What about, the Artic sucks because it sucks.

  11. Anonymous12:27 pm

    I wasn't crazy about Suite Francaise myself, though I found the back-story quite gripping. Granted, Nemirovsky did not get many chances to re-draft...and may have suffered from a poor translator. We are talking at a couple of removes here.
    I'm currently taking the chance to re-read Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. I had forgotten how superb it is. Sometimes we don't get enough chances to re-read, running after the touted next 'big thing'. No wonder one feels a tad cheesed off if it doesn't quite measure up.



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