When you’re twenty, love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it’s over you can hardly remember how it happened … Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out. Faced with this blaze of dreams and desires, I felt so old, so cold, so wise … – from Fire in the Blood, page 37 –
A small village in France is the setting of Irene Nemirovsky’s novella Fire in the Blood. Narrated in the cynical voice of an older man named Silvio, the story centers around Silvio’s cousins Helene and Francois Erard, their daughter Collette, and Helene’s half sister’s adopted daughter Brigette. From the first, the reader understands that Silvio knows more than he is revealing about the lives of his extended family. He has regrets despite his worldly travels.
I felt this all the more strongly after such a good meal and excellent wine, thinking back to the past the cruel enemy who made me run away from this place. I tried being a civil servant in the Congo, a merchant in Tahiti, a trapper in Canada. Nothing made me happy. I thought I was seeking my fortune; in reality I was being propelled forward by the fire in my young blood. But as these passions are now extinguished I no longer know who I am. I feel I’ve traveled a long, pointless road, simply to end up where I began. – from Fire in the Blood, page 18 –
Silvio has wasted his inheritance and now lives alone with only his dog and maid for company. He is a fine observer of life in the village and notices the secrets people seek to conceal. Gradually those secrets are revealed, uncovering the smoldering embers of passion in those closest to him.
Nemirovsky is a brilliant writer, and in this slim book she demonstrates her skill at exposing the darkness of the human soul through careful and deliberate character development. Silvio is not completely likable, and yet he draws the reader to him slowly and relentlessly. Everyone, it seems, harbors a secret…and it is Silvio who holds the key.
At its heart, Fire in the Blood is about the contrast between youth and old age, connection with others vs. solitude, passion vs. complacency. Nemirovsky deftly explores the comfort of solitude and ordinary life, and contrasts that with the power and joy of unrestrained love and the passion of youth.
And how can I define the pleasure I find here? I enjoy simple things, things within reach: a nice meal, some good wine, the secret, bitter pleasure of writing in this notebook; but, most especially, this divine solitude. What else do I need? But when I was twenty, how I burned! How is this fire lit within us? It devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. – from Fire in the Blood, page 52 –
I thoroughly enjoyed the passages which described the French countryside, its food and traditions, and the rhythm of life in a small village. In 1937, Nemirovsky made a trip to a village in Burgundy called Issy-l’Eveque…it was this small town which became the setting for Fire in the Blood (and later for the second part – Dolce– of her last novel Suite Francaise)
We thresh the wheat around here. It’s the end of summer, time to do the last of the heavy farm work for this season. A day of labour and a day to celebrate. Enormous golden flan cases bake in the oven; since the beginning of the week the children have been shaking plums off the trees so they can decorate them with fruit. There are a huge number of plums this year. The small orchard behind my house is buzzing with bees; the grass is dotted with ripe fruit, the golden skin bursting with little drops of sugar. On threshing day every household takes pride in offering their workers and neighbours the best wine, the thickest cream in the region. To go with them: pies crammed full of cherries and smothered with butter; those small, dry goat cheeses our farmers love so much; bowls of lentils and potatoes; and finally coffee and brandy. – from Fire in the Blood, page 64 –
Fire in the Blood is a quick read at less than 130 pages – but it is rich with detail. In many ways, this novella reminded me of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome – another story which is propelled by the dark mysteries of its characters. It is likely that Fire in the Blood was a manuscript in process – an unfinished work – as Irene Nemirovsky’s voice was silenced in 1942 at the hands of the Nazis. Despite this, the book works on every level from plot to character development to setting. Fire in the Blood reminds us of Nemirovsky’s acute understanding of the human heart and her ability to reveal that which resides deep inside all of us. She is a talented writer who brings to life a small French village and its people, surprising us with secrets hidden beneath a facade of innocence. Fire in the Blood is a satisfying read and one which I highly recommend.
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