Chatto & Windus £16.99

The Dogs and the Wolves, By Irène Némirovsky, trs Sandra Smith

This pre-war novel fails to match the author's best

The Kiev-born daughter of a Jewish banker, Irène Némirovsky escaped revolutionary Russia to settle in Paris in 1918. Publishing a dozen books in the 1930s before fleeing Nazi-threatened Paris for rural France, she was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she was gassed. After half a century hidden in an unopened journal, Suite Française, Némirovsky's incomplete epic of French life under Nazi occupation, was published in 2004 to huge acclaim. Amid the turmoil of displacement, prejudice and personal danger, her clear-sighted and emotionally rich fiction carries all the more weight and immediacy for being written in the moment, processing the horrors of conflict and subjugation without the settling perspective of hindsight or historical distance.

Happily, Sandra Smith's elegant and skilful English translations of other Némirovsky fictions have followed. In spare, unadorned prose, All Our Worldly Goods picks at a tangle of relationships in provincial northern France between the wars. Originally published posthumously in 1947, it gains added poignancy from the optimistic tone of its ending, which clangs against our knowledge of how the war played out after the author's death. Fire in the Blood, pieced together from two recently discovered fragments, is a neatly orchestrated chamber piece of murder and adultery set in a similar rustic landscape to parts of Suite Française. The subtle interplay of social status, private morality and emotional brittleness gives a Chekhovian feel to this brief but taut domestic intrigue.

Given Némirovsky's mature skill at both the miniature and the more epic narrative arc, and her dexterity with intensely realised, richly textured characters, I am quite at a loss as to why her latest novel to be translated is so comparatively poor. The last work published in the author's lifetime, The Dogs and the Wolves follows Ada from her impoverished upbringing in a Ukrainian ghetto to modest success as an artist, and a conflicted love affair in Paris. Six months after once seeing a little boy in a silk suit get out of a carriage, dreamy young Ada is still thinking of him: Harry Sinner belongs to the wealthy, banking Sinners, distant relatives whose hilltop mansion is far removed from the ghetto. When mounted Cossacks fuel a pogrom down below, Ada and her cousin Ben flee the violence, find themselves at the Sinner residence and beg for protection and food. Beyond an awkward dance, there is little further contact; graspingly ambitious Aunt Raissa takes her and Ben to Paris where, rather startlingly, Ben and Ada marry; and Harry turns up as an affluent émigré.

This love saga is beset by stylistic weaknesses. Contrived plotting that in earlier novels was carried by strong characterisation is exposed here by bland, stilted dialogue and the sheer insubstantiality of the principal players. "Though she barely knew him, he was more real to her than Ben," girlish Ada swoons. Why? "I dream about you, very often," Harry gushes with surprise on re-acquainting in Paris. Really? After only two embarrassing encounters a decade earlier? These flimsy, slapdash characters fret without conviction, while Ben's inability to let an avaricious opportunity slip by has more in common with murky racial stereotyping than psychological depth.

Asides on the veneration of wealth complete an unflattering and unsympathetic portrait of Jewish society, perhaps shaped deliberately by Némirovsky who was distancing herself from Judaism at the time of writing. This hardly accounts for the implausible sentiment that frames the plot, however, and gives The Dogs and the Wolves the breathless, shallow feel of juvenilia that is far removed from the potency of her wartime fiction.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum