Chatto & Windus £14.99

The Wine of Solitude, By Irène Némirovsky

World war, revolution...and loneliness

The Wine of Solitude (first published in France in 1935) will hold a particular interest for Irène Némirovsky fans as it's considered the most autobiographical of her novels.

Although a slighter work than Suite Française, this strangely haunting tale about a young girl's volatile relationship with her mother, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, is another profound, exquisitely wrought, piece of writing.

Hélène Karol lives with her parents and maternal grandparents in Kiev. Throughout her childhood, Hélène feels closest to her French governess, Mademoiselle Rose, who offers affection and a sense of order. Her vain, neglectful mother, Bella, is only interested in her lovers and the latest fashion, and Hélène finds herself increasingly repelled: "She nurtured in her heart a strange hatred of her that seemed to increase as she grew older; like love, there were a thousand reasons for it and none; and, like love, there was the simple excuse: 'It's because of who she is, and because of who I am'."

Hélène's solitude nurtures her powers of observation and she turns to writing as a means of making sense of the world around her. But when Hélène's negative summary of her family is discovered on paper, her beloved governess is dismissed. Hélène blames her mother for the rupture. Her father, Boris, whom she adores, makes his fortune in the gold mines but his obsession with capitalising on his profits, with gambling and financial speculation, only adds to her sense of isolation. This is brilliantly encapsulated in a passage in which Boris leaves his young daughter waiting for hours alone outside the casino, "like a suitcase forgotten at the left luggage office". Hélène receives even less attention from Bella, who is accompanied everywhere by her lover, Max, 15 years her junior.

During the October Revolution, the Karol family are forced to flee and make their way to Finland before settling in Paris. On the brink of adulthood, embittered, but still naïve, Hélène's romantic initiation is doomed to failure. First she dallies with Fred, already married and father to a young family, described as "one of those men who seem eternally young, who don't know how to mature, but who will suddenly grow old, become bitter, spiteful and tyrannical". Later, Hélène sets her eyes on Max as a means of punishing Bella. In a startling realisation, "she rejected any morbid memories; she retained only an awareness of her strength, her age, her intoxicating power."

Beautifully translated by Sandra Smith, The Wine of Solitude offers a pitch-perfect evocation of adult duplicity. Némirovsky captures a peculiarly immoral time in the domestic sphere, played out on a tumultuous world stage. Fortunes are quickly won and lost and "people gave their blessing to adultery so that time transformed love affairs into a second, honourable marriage, respected by everyone, including the husband". It is an excoriating study of human selfishness and of lives cast adrift by cataclysmic events.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before