Suite Française

85200B9D-4885-4132-8876-2B40BEEA0397As a francophile, of course I read Suite Française (sweet frahn-sez), by Irène Némirovsky, when it came out in 2004. The author was working on a series of five novels when she was arrested because she was a Jew living in France, then deported to Auschwitz, where she perished. Apparently, her daughters kept her notebooks without reading them until 1998, fearing that they were journals that would be too heartrending.

The first two volumes of the series were published together under the title she had intended for the entire group. The first volume tells the story of chaos on the roads out of Paris, as the Nazis advanced on the capital, and then the ultimate return as people decided that cohabiting with the enemy would be preferable to the difficulties of living elsewhere. The second novel tells the story of life during the occupation in the small town of Bussy, when love develops between a German officer and the woman who is required to billet him.

ACAE7E33-0450-41F2-AFE8-C0784F173495It seems unkind of me to say that I did not love Suite Française, given the tragedy that befell its author, but it struck me as being very much a first draft, that Némirovsky might have substantially altered and polished, had she lived. So when I saw that a film version of the second volume had been made in 2015, I didn’t rush to see it, even though it starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Michelle Williams, two actresses that I admire a great deal. I added it to my Netflix queue, with the intention of perhaps checking it out “someday.”

5B315E1B-EE15-4588-B45A-3A1B87E59415Well, someday finally came and I can highly recommend the film. Yes, there have been changes from Némirovsky’s original plot, but the essential elements are still there. Scott Thomas is the mother-in-law from hell who turns out to have a drop of good in her after all, and Williams is the dutiful wife whose husband is in a POW camp who finds herself drawn to a Nazi officer who loves music as much as she does. What the film – and book – do best is reveal how ugly people can be when they are trying to look after their own skins and how they can also transcend all the pettiness when it comes to serving a higher goal. Whether or not you were a fan of the book, or even have never heard of it, I think that you might enjoy Suite Française.


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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