Sunday, August 3, 2008

Suite Française - (BATS June)

Having missed most of June's meeting, where we discussed Pesthouse (Jim Crace), I found that I was away altogether for the July meeting where the discussion was on Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française - the book I chose!
I read it before the 'proper' month, as I was going to be away, so it seems a long time ago now. It seemed to be mostly enjoyed - by others - telling the story of the fall of France in 1940 and the flight from Paris, the second half of the book deals with the consequences of occupation. A breathtaking novel - as it seems to stand back from the events - and yet it was written in 1941-2 and its composition terminated by Némirovsky's arrest, transportation to a concentration camp and death. The (incomplete) novel was only published in 2004. The Guardian review is here:
In the fictional world of Suite Française, everything is in flux. Some are stunned, while others already jockey for position in the new order. A few prepare themselves to resist. But nothing is abstract; everything is made present, whether it's the cherries on the pillow, the privileged little dinner that Corte secures for himself and which is then snatched away by a hungry man, or the sound of music drifting over a lake at evening while young German soldiers celebrate. Perhaps Némirovsky's most extraordinary achievement is the humanity of these individual Germans, and the sense of tragedy when their celebration dissolves at the news that Germany has invaded the Soviet Union. Their dreams of peace vanish; fantasies of a bargain between conquerors and conquered cannot survive.

Strongly recommended!

The Pesthouse (BATS May)

This was the first of our new sequence of book group choices made (and bought) by the members. Sylvia chose Jim Crace's The Pesthouse - a powerful novel of the aftermath of an apocalypse. According to an interview with Crace in Writing Magazine (pdf's on his website), it was inspired both by the Scilly Isles where there is a pesthouse and his love/hate relationship with America:
‘I have always loved beingin America; I have always loved its generosity and hospitality. But in the last ten years I have found that my hatred was stronger than my love for it. I wanted to address that. So, take the issue of a destroyed community, place it in America and give it a medieval future. All of those issues are in the book.’

Wonderfully written, imaginative though I'm not sure I was always convinced by the narrative - but maybe I was shutting out the fantasy?
A Guardian review is here and here is a rather more positive one from the Spectator.