Irène Némirovsky: All Our Worldly Goods

I have recently finished reading All Our Worldly Goods by Irène Némirovsky, and I really enjoyed it. It is the story of a family who has lived through the great wars of the 20th century: “First published in France in 1947, after the author’s death, it is a gripping story of family life and starcrossed lovers, of commerce and greed, set against the backdrop of France from 1911 to 1940 and in two terrible wars” (from the blurb).

I think that the plot and characterization are strong, and the novel is well written and well translated (tr. Sandra Smith).

The descriptions are quite atmospheric, and the themes of class and societal pressure almost render the book a period novel.

One descriptive passage I like from the first few pages:

“Simone, Pierre’s fiancée, sat between him and Agnès; he turned away to avoid looking at the pale folds of flesh round Simone’s waist and her milky-white round arms. This girl looks as if she’s made of milk, and butter, and cream, he mused. It was strange; he had often looked with pleasure at her fresh, plump body, her thick, soft waist and red hair. But, for some time now, the sight of her made him feel nauseous, like a meal that is too heavy, too sweet.” (p. 2)

As for weaknesses, I would point out to the excessive usage of coincidence in the plot, especially in the second half, but I guess that is due to the literary norms of the time. Moreover, one of the subsidiary characters seems to disappear as the plot progresses, although it doesn’t make sense that she’s not around and her parents aren’t worried about her. Apart from these, I agree with the pull quotes that compare Némirovsky’s work to that of classical French and Russian writers.

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