VINTAGE £7.99 (159pp) (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

David Golder, by Irène Némirovsky, trans Sandra Smith

The sins of the father, and the sorrow of the exile

Forgotten by the critics, yes. But, far from being the lost and unknown writer that legend depicts, Irène Némirovsky was, in the short span of her career, both popular and prolific. Though her name was only mentioned in passing before the great success of her posthumous Suite Française, several of her prewar novels remained in print in paperback. Inevitably, these dealt either with Russian émigrés in France, or Jewish life in the Ukraine, or a combination of both. A more versatile writer than many realised, she was equally adept at chronicling the changing fortunes of the French bourgeoisie; she also wrote an elegant and perceptive study of her literary model, Chekhov.

Two of her most characteristic works, Le Bal and Les Mouches d'Automne, are set in the privileged Franco-Russian milieu she captures exquisitely. They are proof, perhaps, that her deceptively simple and understated style is best suited to shorter fiction: her touch is light, but with an underlying darkness that bears witness to exile, marginality and existential frustration. Uncaring mothers, resentful daughters, sad governesses people these fictions. By contrast, the longer novels inspired by her Ukranian Jewish background - Les Chiens et les Loups, Le Vin de Solitude - are relatively traditional, teeming with characters and leisurely in their attitude to time and place.

David Golder, the brief account of a Jewish migrant's last and troubled days, was published when she was 26, in 1929. Anecdotal, it dwells on incidental encounters and reflections: conversations with his predatory, adulterous wife, her longtime lover, his fickle, pleasure-loving daughter, a business partner; a tour of the Jewish quarter with an old mate; a trip to his origins which, in a style reminiscent of the mature Némirovsky, ends in a moving portrayal of a final, unrecognised friendship and the picture of another hapless migrant's voyage.

The novel opens in the manner of a thriller, with a suicide offstage. At times it reads like a film script, at others it employs a collagist technique: fragments of satire and gossip, discussions of big business, streams of consciousness which are a confluence of past and present. Its pace is swift, its atmosphere claustrophobic. Though it occasionally shifts perspective from Golder's monologues to a camera's eye view of his wife and daughter and their affairs, its relentless focus is on the revelation of his inner demons.

David, ruthless, venal and ultimately pitiable, dominates the book; its other characters are at best projections of his needs, fears and desires. Possibly the shortcomings of a writer as yet immature, they also bear witness to her unsentimental understanding of the scars of emotional and physical dispossession.

Superficially, David's character bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Daphne du Maurier's monstrous Julius Levi in The Progress of Julius. Both Golder and Levi are Jewish migrants who have fought their way out of adversity; both, paranoid and vulnerable, are obsessed with beautiful, flighty daughters, but with very different outcomes. It's tempting to imagine du Maurier, a frequent visitor to France, reading Némirovsky on holiday and unconsciously appropriating some elements of her work.

Du Maurier's Julius remains a parodic representation of a Jewish parvenu. Némirovsky, however, writing closer to her own preoccupations, strips away Golder's mask, flesh and skin, to reveal the skull of a man damaged by history, prejudice and the failure of love.

In much of her work, Némirovsky's view of the roots her family outgrew is at best cold-eyed and at worst disdainful. It is also self-revealing, and a testament to her refusal to discard any part of her heritage. Francophone, exiled and reassimilated, she continued, in her fiction, to return to the collective past. In this early novel are flashes of the piercing insights that characterise her later work. In his last voyage, in which he sees a replay of the tragi-comedy of his beginnings, David is revealed as much as a victim as a perpetrator. Némirovsky's farewell glance reflects, in her refusal to judge or condemn, its ultimate compassion.

Aamer Hussein's 'Insomnia' is published by Telegram in April

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week