Irene Nemirovsky’s SUITE FRANCAISE: The Dictating of the Will

It’s a wonder how much energy is now available to self, now that she has decided not to go where she had planned to go in December.  For instance, now she has great reserves of energy for reading and hunting for books.  Today, after buying two portions of creme brulee from Draeger’s in Menlo Park (to celebrate the fact that this week, hubby’s start-up got an order —  the first in almost a year), self stopped by the Atherton library and picked up two mysteries, one by Boris Akunin (The Death of Achilles) and the other by Alexander McCall Smith (Blue Shoes and Happiness).  Then, after getting home, she resumed reading Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, which has held her in thrall ever since she began it, two days ago.  In fact, self was so enthralled that she read 100 pages in about an hour (from 12:30 to almost 2 a.m.) and then, realizing that at this rate she could end up spending all night reading, she forced herself to close the book.  And, within five minutes of making that decision, self fell asleep.

Now, she’s been delaying her reading, but alas, she actually couldn’t bear not to continue.  She’s at a section of the book where Madame Péricand (wife of a wealthy Parisian), having gathered her children around her and walked with them out of Paris, and having survived two air raids, has suddenly realized (with a great and dramatic scream) that the family left their house in such a hurry that they forgot to collect her father-in-law, an invalid, who had declared at the last moment, as they were all gathered on the street with their belongings, that he had to take a moment to pee.

So, now the father-in-law has been rescued by a kind stranger and taken to a type of convalescent home, run by a handful of courageous nuns.  He has a very high fever and is apparently dying.  The nuns summon a notary, and even though it is past midnight, he comes.  Then the old man begins to dictate his last will and testament, with two nuns and a gardener and the gardener’s three sons gathered round as witnesses.  And this is how Nemirovsky describes what ensues:

For a few moments that seemed brief to the notary, the witnesses and the Sisters, but to him were as long as a century, as long as delirium, as long as a dream, Monsieur Péricand-Maltete moved back in time to recall the life he had been given on this earth:  the family dinners, the Boulevard Delessert, naps in the drawing room, Albert the cat on his lap; the last time he saw his older brother when they had parted vowing never to have anything more to do with each other . . .  Jeanne, his wife in Bléoville, thirty-five years earlier, just after their wedding, when some bees had come in through the open window and were gathering pollen from the lilies in her bridal bouquet and the garland of orange blossoms thrown at the foot of the bed.

Then he was certain he could feel death approaching.  He made a startled little gesture (as if he was trying to get through a door that was too narrow for him, saying, “No, please, after you”) and a look of surprise appeared on his face.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Irene Nemirovsky’s SUITE FRANCAISE: The Dictating of the Will

  1. Kathleen,

    I am loving it, really really loving it. It’s a mosaic, written from many different points of view. But the writing is so gorgeous. I wonder how she was able to produce this, in so short a time (She died in Auschwitz, she was only 39)

    Like

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