Schmacko's Reviews > Dimanche and Other Stories

Dimanche and Other Stories by Irène Némirovsky
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Jul 21, 10

Read on July 11, 2010

Continuing my obsessive reading of Irène Némirovsky, I picked up a collection of her short stories, Dimanche (Sunday). These brief writings—mostly from the 30s and early 40s—have just recently been translated from Némirovsky’s French into English. Here, in ten short tales, we get a clear sense of a writer coming into her own style and voice. Although she doesn’t quite tap the emotional depth she did with her unfinished 1942 masterpiece Suite Française, it’s easy to sense her growth and the shaping of her worldview.

(If you want to read about her fascinating and tragically short-lived life, look at one of my other reviews of her books. Or better yet, go read Wikipedia. ;-)

Némirovsky has a gift of observation. She combines a congenial and quietly comic acceptance of human flaws and contradictions with a genuine love of character. To some readers, the author’s perspective may come off as defeatist or resigned; to others it is a knowing voice, fascinated by human nature, unclouded by judgment, accepting of emotional paradox. I’d fall into the latter camp.

Her first two stories, “Dimanche” and “Those Happy Shores” are lovely writings about how women view each other: mothers and daughters, people from different classes, older and younger women. Both stories contain sly comment on how many women of the early 20th century pin their hopes on the affections, wants and emotions of men. Also embedded in both pieces is Némirovsky’s subtle use of comic irony and her delicate way of diving into each woman’s mind as a narrative device.

In Those Happy Shores, Némirovsky describes a middle-aged woman, Ginette, who hangs around a Paris bar hoping for a man to buy her drinks and give her companionship. She notices a rich, old man across the room:

Briefly, she imagined the old man (without any heirs) becoming fond of her, the dresses she would have made, the traveling she could do.  In her mind she saw herself relieved of all her worries, made more beautiful by happiness, meeting someone young and handsome with whom she would cheat on the old wheezing man in the far corner, who at that moment gave her an unfriendly glance before obsequiously going up to a pretty girl with platinum blonde hair who was sucking her drink through a straw and looking around condescendingly with the superficial spark of youth.


“Flesh and Blood” is a lovely story about blood relation and in-laws. It follows a mother, three sons, and their spouses. The sneakily judgmental mother falls ill, and the wives take turns nurturing the old lady. At the same time, the middle son plans to leave his wife and wants his brothers’ financial help. Unfortunately, one of the brothers is married to the estranged wife’s sister. It’s emotionally complex stuff that would make a good play.

A couple middle tales don’t quite connect; one is a thin murder mystery and the other concerns a possible spell casting. Both contain wan views of romance that don’t quite live up to Némirovsky’s typical use of subtle human complexity.

However, the end of the book is mostly taken up with three tales about WWII. Here, we see the beginnings of what Némirovsky accomplished in the two novellas of Suite Française, observing her environment and writing insightfully about troubling current events. A couple stories broach the subjects of selfishness and apathy, and another is a capable page-turner ripe with warfare violence and a family mystery.

All in all, it’s a worthy book to pick up and read. It also reaffirms my fascination with Némirovsky.
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