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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

All Our Worldly Goods

Irène Némirovsky

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To purchase All Our Worldly Goods

Title: All Our Worldly Goods
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Novel
Written: (1947) (Eng. 2008)
Length: 264 pages
Original in: French
Availability: All Our Worldly Goods - US
All Our Worldly Goods - UK
All Our Worldly Goods - Canada
Les Biens de ce monde - Canada
All Our Worldly Goods - India
Les Biens de ce monde - France
Die Familie Hardelot - Deutschland
  • French title: Les Biens de ce monde
  • First published in book form posthumously, in 1947
  • Translated by Sandra Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, short but sweeping novel of France between the world wars

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 18/10/2008 Lewis Jones
FAZ . 23/12/2010 Sandra Kegel
The Guardian . 10/10/2008 A.S.Byatt
NZZ . 6/12/2010 Jürgen Ritte
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/10/2011 Liesl Schillinger
The Telegraph . 4/10/2008 Charlotte Moore
The Telegraph . 12/10/2008 Jane Shilling
Wall St. Journal . 31/12/2011 André Aciman

  Review Consensus:

  Solid Suite française-forerunner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Némirovsky achieves an exquisite balance of weight and lightness, borrowing cinematic techniques and presenting her portraits by means of elegant and increasingly sharp ellipses. All Our Worldly Goods is a gorgeous novel -- witty, tender and true." - Lewis Jones, Financial Times

  • "Wie hier atmosphärisch dicht ein Zeitraum von fast vierzig Jahren eingefangen wird -- es brauchte nur eine Generation, um diese Welt zu vernichten --, macht die Autorin zuletzt auch zur Chronistin." - Sandra Kegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "One of the things she does best is to describe the ordinary state of mind of numbers of people. She is very good on populations faced with the upheaval and possible horror of war wanting simply to cling on to their accustomed comforts, not believing." - A.S.Byatt, The Guardian

  • "Gerade deswegen ist die Diagnose, die sie dem Bürgertum ausstellt (einem Bürgertum, dem die Bankierstochter und -gattin selbst entstammte), so überzeugend: Sie liefert in Die Familie Hardelot das Porträt einer sozialen Schicht, welche der auf sie zukommenden Katastrophe nicht viel entgegenzusetzen hatte." - Jürgen Ritte, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(A) stately, tender and wry novel that upholds the honor of rural France as it follows three generations of a bourgeois Roman Catholic family." - Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(S)light and spare, Chekhovian rather than Tolstoyan (.....) Read without knowledge of Némirovsky's own story, All Our Worldly Goods would be a delicate and subtle study of lives swept up by forces beyond their control or understanding. Knowing what we know, its optimistic conclusion is as poignant as anything can be." - Charlotte Moore, The Telegraph

  • "Némirovsky's great bourgeois tragedy is modest in scale but epic in scope. Her highly distinctive style, the delicate but relentless accretion of finely observed detail, produces a story in which universal cataclysm is mirrored in apparently insignificant personal destiny, to extraordinarily resonant effect." - Jane Shilling, The Telegraph

  • "This novel is a paean to hope and middle-class fortitude. Hence the word goods in the title, meaning possessions and wares but also the good things of life. (...) The language is chiseled, candid and direct. Némirovsky was never timid about being judgmental or caustic. Her every sentence bristles with irony, the surest sign of intelligence in any writer." - André Aciman, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       All Our Worldly Goods spans three decades, from 1910 to 1940, and centers on what is essentially a factory town, Saint-Elme. The factory, Hardelot Paper Mills, is a family firm -- but old man Hardelot is paternalistic towards the whole community, which he controls with an iron fist. He provides, but he also demands complete loyalty -- so also from his own family. In 1910 his grandson, Pierre, is to marry a wealthy orphan, Simone -- but Pierre is in love with the neighbor girl, Agnès Florent -- an inappropriate match because of the class differences between them.
       Pierre does marry for love -- though it means being cut off from the family and having to leave Saint-Elme. The war then changes circumstances, as Pierre is conscripted, and Agnès returns to her mother in Saint-Elme. Saint-Elme is destroyed -- but also resurrected, built up to look just as it did before: the grandfather does not like change. Unfortunately, the world around them does continue to change ....
       Agnès is never truly welcomed into the Hardelot-fold as long as the grandfather is alive, but after the war the old man softens a bit and at least allows Pierre to become part of the factory-family again. Simone marries, and her husband also becomes part of the factory-family; eventually wealthy Simone manages to gain complete control of the business, buying out Pierre's share. Pierre and Agnès again move to Paris, but as the next international crisis and war dawns are, of course, again pulled back to inescapable Saint-Elme
       History repeats itself as Pierre and Agnès' son, Guy, follows in his father's footsteps and falls in love with the wrong girl -- in this case, Simone's daughter. This leads, again, to the factory-owner (now Simone) disowning her child -- and then, as war and the Germans come closer, the families are brought back together again.
       Némirovsky sketches out this story in broad strokes. Some details are hardly bothered with -- yes, it's the Hardelot Paper Mills, but what exactly the business involves is never really discussed -- and there are great leaps in time, but the ebbs and flow of the families -- and the town -- are well-presented.
       Némirovsky tells the tale of a few individuals and families, but it really is a novel of a class and a way of life -- the story just spiced up with a bit of romance. So, for example, the central family is easily reduced to:

The Hardelots had lived for this factory. They had married ugly women; they had skimped and counted every last penny; they had been rich and had enjoyed fewer pleasures than the poor. They had stifled their children's interests, thwarted their loves. All this for the factory, for their possessions, for something that was, to their eyes more durable and faithful than love, women or their own children.
       They delude themselves, of course, and when war comes smashing through that should be obvious enough -- though it wasn't the first time, when old man Hardelot just re-built everything as before. But they're not the only ones so fixated on possessions: this is a novel where babies are abandoned by fleeing mothers, but desperate women brave horrible conditions to try to save their linen .....
       As Némirovsky observes, in their incredible naïveté they're all too settled in the illusory safety of a life they've known for so long:
     They planned the future slowly, cautiously, choosing their words carefully, prudently, like a child building a house of cards while holding his breath. However, the child understands that the house is fragile, while these middle-class people were certain they knew what tomorrow would bring. Despite Europe's terrifying chaos, despite the social problems, despite the wars, they had inherited a sense of security; it was passed down through their blood. They counted on the future just as their forefathers had before them.
       Occasionally, there's the realization that it's not quite that simple -- Pierre, exposed to more of the outside world, wearily recognizes:
You get married, have children, establish yourself, grow old. You think you've managed it all. But no. Everything is just beginning ...
       But so much is so deeply ingrained in them that there is little to be done.
       There's a bit of melodrama to the relationships in All Our Worldly Goods: Pierre and Agnès have barely so much as secretly met, yet that is scandal enough to upend their lives. And before marrying Simone's daughter Guy has a mistress -- who is stolen from him by Simone's rakish husband (and who makes a rather too convenient appearance late in the story). But all in all it's quite good entertainment, giving a decent picture of a particular world and way of life, and how it dealt with violent upheavals.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 January 2012

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All Our Worldly Goods: Reviews: Irène Némirovsky: Other books by Irene Nemirovsky under review: Books about Irène Némirovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903. Her family moved to France, where she became a successful and popular author in the 1930s. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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