Nathalie Sarraute’s novel Les Fruits d’or (1963) was a satire, largely in dialogue, about the reception of a novel, greeted as a masterpiece and then shredded to mereness by the literary judiciary. Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française was written in 1941 and 1942; but the manuscript was not discovered, and published, until 2006. Since then, it has gone through a belittling mill similar to that of Sarraute’s fictional fiction. Hailed at first as a posthumous chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, it was talked down into a sort of documentary which did not – as prim critics so often say – “work” as a novel. It works fine, however, as a reminder of how, in May 1940, sauve qui peut became the French order of the day. Recollected in nothing like tranquillity in the early years of the Occupation, Suite française was composed by an author in increasing danger of deportation to – as her smart erstwhile friends pretended to believe – “work in the East”; in fact, to Auschwitz. While living in suspended animation in rural Issy-l’Évêque, in Saône-et-Loire, Némirovsky had time to recall, with implacable objectivity, the disintegration of Parisian society in flight from the advancing “Boches”. Fearful for her family, she drew with a steady hand a warty profile of the France which had become – in a phrase which Picasso applied to modern art – “a sum of destructions”.
more from Frederic Raphael at the TLS here.