By Irene Nemirovsky
Vintage, $14.95, 200 pages
Gladys Eysenach is on trial for the murder of her alleged lover. In short order she is found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. This is not the end of Irene Nemirovsky’s novel Jezebel but its opening pages. By beginning with the end, Némirovsky opens the door to a story that is both simple and complex.
Gladys is a woman who exists solely to be admired and remembers one of the greatest moments of her life as “the dawn of her power as a woman”. She is consumed by the wish to be constantly desired and the fear of aging. There is no more to her than her beauty, which at one time was great, but which has dimmed despite her constant efforts to distort the truth.
Némirovsky fills 199 pages with Gladys and her utter self-absorption and its consequences on everyone around her and yet, this is a beautifully written story, reminiscent of Fitzgerald in its languorous descriptions of a lifestyle long gone. Written solely from Gladys’s perspective, the reader is drawn in, to the point of feeling her anxiety and fear over the loss of her looks and lovers. It is no small feat for an author to bring even a semblance of understanding to such a tedious character but Némirovsky carries it off admirably. Rationally, the reader will find Gladys and her actions both banal and reprehensible but emotionally they will be caught up.
Reviewed by Catherine Gilmore