Author: Irène Némirovsky, 1935. Translated from the French by Sandra Smith, 2011.
Genre: Period Fiction. Coming of Age.
Other Details: Hardback. 256 pages.
Hélène is a troubled young girl. Neglected by her self-absorbed mother and her adored but distant father, she longs for love and for freedom. As first the Great War and then the Russian Revolution rage in the background, she grows from a lonely, melancholy child to an angry young woman intent on destruction. - synopsis from publisher's website.
The novel follows Hélène Karol from the ages of eight to twenty-one and charts her changing relationships to her parents and her mother's younger lover, Max. This is said to be Némirovsky's most autobiographical novel and certainly there are themes here that appear to greater or lesser degree in other of her works, including a wealthy family forced by the Revolution to relocate from Russia to France and the relationship between a vain, self-absorbed mother and her neglected daughter.
This was a very melancholic novel, even bleak at times. However, this is not caused by the Great War and Russian Revolution, historical events that remain very much in the background of the narrative, but the emptiness of the lives of the Karol family despite their material wealth. The writing as always with Némirovsky was exquisite but somehow I just didn't engaged with it to the degree I did with other of her novels. It may have been the characters, who were hard to relate to apart from the Hélène as a young girl, or just that its style felt more intellectual than her other novels.