Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2009

All Our Worldly Goods, by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

all-our-worldly-goods All Our Worldly Goods is not in the same class as Suite Francaise.  It’s a limp family saga of two rival families and how their shabby values impact on ensuing generations.  Pierre Hardalot is the son of a wealthy industrialist and he’s supposed to marry Simone and bring a large dowry to the family’s paper business.  Instead he runs away with Agnes to Paris and his father refuses to have anything to do with him.

BEWARE: SPOILERS

It’s not really Pierre’s refusal to bring this extra capital to the business that does for it, it’s the war.  World War I, that is, and then the Depression.  Simone gets revenge for her humiliation by buying shares in the factory and ultimately buys out Pierre when he runs into financial difficulties.  He has major medical expenses when his son tries to suicide over a lost love, and it turns out that the lady-love’s betrayal involved Simone’s ne’er-do-well husband.  Eventually the son gets over his heartbreak and marries Simone’s daughter Rose, much to Simone’s disapproval.  It’s as if Nemirovsky couldn’t think of enough characters for her book and so had to recycle them in different contexts!

The plot is melodramatic, laced with sarcasm and overloaded with trite detail.  It wouldn’t be published today if not for the tragedy of the Nemirovsky storySuite Francaise was a brilliant evocation of the evacuation of Paris in 1940, and it explored the problems of resistance and collaboration in a sophisticated way.  It stands as a fine piece of work on its own merits, but it’s doubly poignant to read a story written contemporaneous with the war, when the outcome was not known to its author – and never would be, because of her murder by the Nazis.  All Our Worldly Goods, however, is ordinary by comparison, and in my opinion, not worthy of publication.

Author: Irene Nemirovsky
Title: All Our Worldly Goods
Translator: Sandra Smith
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 070118213X / 9780701182137


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