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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Irène Némirovsky

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To purchase Dimanche

Title: Dimanche
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2010)
Length: 293 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Dimanche - US
Dimanche - UK
Dimanche - Canada
  • and Other Stories
  • These stories were originally written between 1934 and 1941; the back cover copy incorrectly states they were written between 1934 and 1942
  • Translated by Bridget Patterson

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Our Assessment:

B : some sharp depictions of family and class, but too much that remains fairly sketchy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 9/5/2010 Francine Prose
San Francisco Chronicle . 16/5/2010 Gregory Leon Miller
The Times A+ 13/3/2010 Kate Saunders

  From the Reviews:
  • "One novella-length entry, 'Flesh and Blood,' is a skilled, moody evocation of the ennui and resentments of family life, a bit like a Chabrol film before the killing starts. But too many of the other stories suffer from the same fault as Suite Française: a tendency to substitute stereotype for character." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "'Flesh and Blood' is the most corrosive account of family resentment, hapless hostility and uncorked fury this side of Thomas Bernhard's Extinction. (...) Some readers are put off by apparent stereotypes of immigrant shtetl Jews in the work that Némirovsky published while she lived. Her family's conversion to Catholicism in 1940 raises further questions, as well as the fact that she contributed stories (some included in this collection) to right-wing journals. But self-preservation may have motivated the family conversion and, if Némirovsky held prejudices, they more likely stemmed from the same class-based superciliousness that she satirized in art." - Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "These short stories are finished down to the last full stop -- and form the most ravishing collection I have read for years. (...) Exquisite." - Kate Saunders, The Times

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:

       Dimanche collects ten stories that Irène Némirovsky wrote between 1934 and 1941. Her tragic life-story and surprising posthumous revival and success (with Suite française) are perhaps so familiar (and certainly rehashed in practically every review of any of her works) that it might seem to obviate the need for any introduction or notes, but Dimanche could have done with a bit more than the copy on the back cover. (Matters are not helped when one finds there the claim that these stories were: "Written between 1934 and 1942" -- surprising, given that the latest any of these stories was originally published was in 1941.) While the publishers made the interesting decision to leave the story-titles in French (with the corresponding English in brackets) -- and used that of the title-story for the title of the collection as a whole, despite the fact that there is an exact English equivalent -- they fail to provide even something as basic as the original dates of publication of the stories, or, absent that, to even note that the stories are presented chronologically (which readers will presumably suspect, but can't be sure of without further research).
       Part of the interest these stories hold is, inevitably, also the biographical light they shed on Némirovsky, from her difficult relationship with her mother to her conflicted (to put it mildly) attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, and her own Jewish background. Given that several of these stories were written and published in occupied France -- and given the types of publications they were published in (apparently of a rather unsavory rightist persuasion) -- a bit more context and explanation would, indeed, have been welcome. (In this Internet-age one might perhaps expect instead some online guidance, but the official reader's guide unhelpfully offers questions rather than answers.)
       One of the stories is titled 'Flesh and blood', and that's one of the recurring themes in the book; indeed, the phrase appears in several of the stories, and blood-ties -- the literal translation of liens du sang -- figure messily in many variations here. Némirovsky's stories are filled with family members who are not estranged but who have little in common -- certainly rarely much love for one another. (Where there is love -- often passionate -- it tends to be one-sided and unreciprocated.) Families are (high-)society in miniature: people you put up with out of some sense of decorum and obligation, but really don't much care for. The story 'Flesh and blood' -- among the best in the collection -- explores this beautifully, beginning with the weekly family dinner where the sons (and daughters-in-law) gather at mother Anna Demestre's home. They lead their separate lives, but are also tied together (two of the brothers married a pair of sisters, from one) -- and, of course, go through these motions in the hopes that when they need to rely on them others (especially the next generation) will too. So, for example:

     Alain was looking for insurance against the future. Now that he was middle-aged, by performing his filial duty he was doing his best to buy for himself the certainty of growing old surrounded by his own flesh and blood, and by young people's voices, which would block out the sound of approaching death.
       These are stories full of failed loves: husbands who don't care all that much for their wives, parents (especially mothers) who believe they love their children, yet can't help but constantly be critical of them. There are the usual marital betrayals, but there are also many betrayals of children. Typically, a young girl asks:
"You'll never leave, will you, Clémence ?"
     Then I understand that Mademoiselle had guessed everything and that the poor little thing was hanging on to what was left of her childhood.
     "Of course I'll never leave."
     I left two months later.
       So much for that childhood, one imagines ... but Némirovsky rarely dwells on what happens to these children, concentrating on the selfish adults and their self-serving actions.
       There's some astonishing self-loathing here, too, of little girls who were never good enough for their mothers all grown up. 'The confidante' is typical:
I was becoming ambitious for myself, particularly when I passed an examination with excellent marks. But then I'd say to myself, 'With the ugly face God has given you, my girl, you must ask for nothing, hope for nothing. It's for the best; at least you'll spare yourself the cruelty of disappointments.'
       So many of her characters also show an incapacity for love: "She didn't know how to love" is what it often comes down to -- though the characters often have to practically contort themselves to avoid it:
     " Well, I don't love her," said Alain in despair. "It's not my fault. Love doesn't beget love, or, ta least, and that's what's so terrible, it only induces an illusion, and ersatz love."
       One story, 'Brotherhood', features a typical Némirovsky protagonist, off to meet some high-society friends at a château but stuck in the middle of nowhere -- and forced to confront some truths about himself. Here Christian (sic !) Rabinovitch, a secular Jew, meets "a badly dressed, thin, ill-shaven man with dirty hands" looking after a sickly child while waiting for the train. The man's name is also Rabinovitch, and represents everything that Christian wants to have left behind of himself. And Christian tries to convince himself he has nothing in common with this Jew:
     "By education and by culture I'm closer to a man like Sestres; in my habits, my tastes, my way of life, I'm much further away from that Jew than I am from an oriental peddler. Three, or even four, generations have elapsed. I'm a different man, not just spiritually, but physically as well. My nose and mouth don't matter, they are nothing. Only the soul matters!"
       Such ruthless depictions of men (and women, and mothers and daughters) and their delusions are where Némirovsky is at her best. Unfortunately, she rarely has -- or at least takes -- the space to fully delve into these damaged psyches here.
       Fascinating, too, are aspects of the stories written under the German occupation, including 'The spectator', in which the protagonist, Hugo, finds a Europe being overrun by Hitler's troops "has the charm of those who are going to die". He is also tempted to linger in Paris longer than is safe because he thinks:
Yet how interesting it would have been to see the beginning of this war ! What would everyone feel ? How shaken they would be ? What would come of this terrible crisis ? Heroism ? A longing for pleasure ? Hatred ? And how would it manifest itself ? Would men become better ? More intelligent ? Or worse ? It was fascinating, all this, fascinating !
       It is these final stories that are most interesting with respect to Némirovsky's own fate, suggesting how she approached these terrible, inescapable events as a writer.
       Dimanche is a decent collection of stories, with a few that stand very well on their own. On the whole, however, it does not compare to her longer fiction -- Suite française, in particular -- and the collection is of greatest interest for the light it sheds on Némirovsky herself (and Némirovsky-as-writer) -- and thus it is all the more disappointing that the volume comes with absolutely no supporting material that might help a reader navigate this territory.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2010

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Dimanche: Reviews: Irène Némirovsky: 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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