The Misunderstanding is Irène Némirovsky’s first novel, written when she was just twenty-one and published in a literary journal two years later. An intense story of self-destructive and blighted love, it is also a tragic satire of French society after the Great War.
Yves Harteloup, scarred by the war, is a disappointed young man, old money fallen on hard times, who returns for the summer to the rich, comfortable Atlantic resort of Hendaye, where he spent blissful childhood holidays. He becomes infatuated with a beautiful, bored young woman, Denise, whose rich husband is often away on business. Intoxicated by summer nights and Yves’ intensity, Denise falls passionately in love, before the idyll has to end and Yves must return to his mundane office job.
In the mournful Paris autumn their love flounders on mutual misunderstanding, in the apparently unbridgeable gap between a life of idle wealth and the demands of making a living, between a woman’s needs and a man’s way of loving. As Denise is driven mad with desire and jealous suspicion, Yves, too sure of her, tortures himself and her with his emotional ambivalence. Taking her sophisticated mother’s advice, Denise takes action… which she may regret forever.
With a sharp satirical eye and a characteristic perception for the fault lines in human relationships, Irène Némirovsky’s first novel shows sure signs of the brilliant novelist she was to become.
IrèneNémirovsky is a name that has been haunting my book cosmos for many years now. From my high-school years to my university pursuits her name peeked from every corner, always watching, constantly reminding of itself. But since I came in the UK she has plunged in obscurity, well until one day a week or two ago, when she threw herself at me from a library shelf. Ruthless woman, I’m telling you, almost toppled me over. I picked three of her novels, not even bothering to read the back cover… I ended up, by strange whim of destiny with her first, her last and a sort of middle novel of hers. Weird, right? Then again it gave a good overview of the evolution of her style and themes. So this little fox is content with her choice.
The Misunderstanding is Némirovsky’s first novel. She published it when she was only 21. For a début of only 164 pages I found it remarkable well-established and put together. A petite jewel if you want me to be exact. A story of exaggerated love and enthusiasm it is the epitome of young love. A love-Hate relationship with life and the way it intertwines in the world of two lovers who seem very clumsy in coping with themselves.
The novel’s main characters left me with a long forgotten taste of mischief and promiscuity. I felt as if I was back in my teens when nothing made sense, every thought gave birth to chaos and every desire seem to though me from exhilaration to dis pair in the matter of seconds. Némirovsky did a marvellous job in portraying the moodiness of young people in love, who have yet to adult.
The best part is that Némirovsky only alluded to her gift of being able to strip life to its beautiful, simple, essence for the purpose of literature. I don’t know if you have read Brooklyn by C. Toibin, but I have no doubt you’ll be watching the movie soon. Well, The Misunderstanding is similar to it, it the sense that it reflects its style. It is a perfect miniature of reality, so exemplary that it almost reads as a diary.
The writing is flowing and graceful, with the bitter-sweet taste of clichés that you’d find in young author’s works. The style is genuine and pure. Yves and Denise are luminous characters that bring the novel out of sentimental period nostalgia into intelligent drama that promises to make you fall in love again.
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