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Jezebel, By Irene Nemirovsky

Lesley McDowell
Sunday 04 July 2010 00:00 BST

The old-fashioned, theatrical style of this tragic romance ("You alone can remember the woman I used to be. I am ashamed, desperately ashamed, but I want to have the courage to ask your help, you and only you, because you once loved me...") does not suit today's more casual exposing of emotions, and makes it feel like an old movie: out of date but full of curiosity value. Yet Irene Nemirovsky's tale of a woman on trial for shooting her young lover rings more contemporary bells than we might at first think.

Gladys Eysenach is a beautiful woman whose life has been dominated by her appearance. Her greatest task, as she grows older, is to hold on to that beauty, and to this extent she lies about her age and the age of her daughter, spends hours on elaborate skin-treating regimes, and delights in attracting men to whom she never has any intention of acquiescing. She's a vamp, a femme fatale and dangerously self-centred, but also vulnerable and lonely. Nemirovsky shows no love for her fellow women in this often bitchy tale, which, when first published in 1936, was thought to have been a damning portrayal of her own mother.

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