A Flicker of Talent
“Fire in the Blood” is the second work to be published posthumously from Irene Nemirovsky, whose masterpiece “Suite Francaise” became a well deserved international sensation in 2006 and 2007. Once again Sandra Smith composes the English translation from the original French and does a splendid job of capturing the spirit of Nemirovsky’s prose, though this work lacks some of the cunningly evocative wordplay that had some sections of “Suite Francaise” seem so poetic and fluidly verbose.
Focusing on the romantic follies and unintentionally murderous affairs of the residents of a small village in the French countryside, “Fire in the Blood” is an entertaining slice-of-life style soap opera told uniquely from the point of view of travel-worn aging bachelor who has returned reluctantly to his quiet hometown. Focusing more of the memories of love and youth than on the actual encounters, Nemirovsky avoids the typical trappings of the run-of-the-mill romance novel. There’s an often cold, bitter, outsider’s sense of detachment to the follies of the characters in the book that give it a sharp observer’s edge and turns it into more of anthropological study than a melodrama. Many nuances of rural life and the social mores of the pre-WWII French are delivered spot-on by the Ukrainian born writer. Nemirovsky seduces the reader in the end, as secrets are revealed, and we get a brief flicker of the passion and the fire that had been elusive in the rest of the novel (hidden in gossip and observations after the fact) in the closing pages and haunting final lines. For Nemirovsky, true love dances across the whitewashed walls of our memories like shadows before the flame is snuffed out and we go to sleep for the rest of our lives in utter darkness.
One can only assume that this brief work would’ve been fleshed out and revised a few more times had Nemirovsky been given the chance. It lacks the epic scope and immediacy of her other lost masterpiece. While superficially it may seem like a frivolous afterthought in the wake of “Suite Francaise”, Nemirovsky makes it clear with “Fire in the Blood” that even at their basest levels matters of the heart are no small affair.
See below for my review of Suite Francaise: