There is no doubt in my mind that Irene Nemirovsky was and is a great writer. Her books, even in translation, are moving and austere and this novella is no exception.
The tale is set in Paris, in the apartment of a family with newly found wealth. The event is a ball planned to announce the family’s arrival into ‘high society’. While the plot is simple, it is the characters themselves and their relationships which make this a wonderful piece of writing.
Meet Madame Kampf, who opens the story with: “Madame Kampf walked into the study and slammed the door behind her with such force that a gust of air made the crystal beads on the chandelier jingle with the pure, light sound of small bells.” The Madame slams right through this tale, her feelings of inferiority casting a dark shadow over this family.
Meet Antoinette, Madame’s daughter, all of fourteen and precariously perched on the edge of womanhood. She day dreams about falling in love and escaping her mother’s tyranny. Throughout the narrative readers keenly appreciate that Antoinette is, for her mother, an unnecessary and difficult appendage – “couldn’t you use the service entrance?” Madame asks of her daughter toward the end of the novella. This type of treatment sets the tone of the Story and partly justifies the lengths to which Antoinette goes to undermine her mother’s attempts to establish herself in society.
Overall, a very sad and moving piece. A fabulous reading experience!