The Fires Of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky
The Fires Of Autumn was written in the last two years of Irene Nemirovsky's life, after she fled Paris in 1940. The prequel to her masterpiece, Suite Francaise, it is a panoramic exploration of French life and a witness to the greatest horrors of the twentieth century.
After four years of bloody warfare Bernard Jacquelain returns from the trenches a changed man. No more the naive hopes and dreams of the teenager who went to war. Attracted by the lure of money and success, Bernard embarks on a life of luxuriant delinquency supported by suspect financial dealings and easy virtue. Yet when his lover throws him off, he turns to a wholesome childhood friend for comfort. For ten years he lives the good bourgeois life, but as another war threatens everything, Bernard has clung to, starts to crumble and the future for his marriage and for France looks terribly uncertain.
First published posthumously in France in 1957, The Fires Of Autumn is a coruscating tragic evocation of the reality of war and its dirty aftermath, and the ugly colour it can turn a man's soul.
This novel as translated by Sandra Smith opens in 1912 with an introduction to Parisian family life, small shops and modest apartments. We are introduced to a wider cast of characters as the novel progresses.
Bernard Jacquelain, is the main protagonist. Initally an eager volunteer, he returns home in 1918, broken and somewhat cynical. His childhood acquaintance Martial, a doctor, who was serving behind the front lines has been killed leaving behind his wife, Therese. Therese realises that she has always loved Bernard. Their romance is frequently disrupted by events. We move through the bloody realities of Flanders battlefields and finally to a post-war world of greedy characters who manipulate the international markets.
This is a beautifully descriptive and captivating novel. Really enjoyed it.