By Irene Nemirovsky, Translated by Sandra Smith
Vintage Books, $15.00, 256 pages, 3 stars
Newly translated from French into English by Sandra Smith, Irène Némirovsky’s The Wine of Solitude is an autobiographical novel that follows Hélène Karol as she grows from a petulant, lonely child into a manipulative young woman resentful of her unhappy childhood.
In the foreground is her spoiled, adulterous mother Bella, whom Hélène is incapable of loving, Bella’s young lover Max and Hélène’s beloved, melancholic French governess Mademoiselle Rose. In the background, the Karol family is always in motion moving from one city to another as Hélène’s absent, greedy father Boris becomes rich from gambling, investments and war.
“Books lie. There is no virtue, no love in the world. Every household is the same. In every family there is nothing but greed, lies and mutual misunderstanding.”
The scope of the novel is narrow, from the egocentric perspective of a spoiled little Russian girl who is more focused on the turmoil happening in her own household than in the world. Even then, it skims the surface, making the family members into little more than caricatures, all of which are rather unlikeable. Unfortunately, this narrative is told in a repetitive, unsympathetic and self-centered manner more akin to a memoir than a novel.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins