If you enjoyed Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Française, her novel of life in France during the German occupation of WWII, I think you will be just as enthusiastic about The Fires of Autumn. It has the same kind of sweeping but intimate storyline, and the same gorgeous prose style. Written in 1940, after Nemirovsky fled Paris and two years before her death at Auschwitz, The Fires of Autumn is being marketed as a “spiritual prequel” to Suite Française because though it doesn’t have the same characters it takes takes place in France in the years before the events of the other book.
The Fires of Autumn follows a diverse but connected set of Parisian families from the days of optimistic confidence before WWI, and carries them through the despair and disillusionment of the war itself, the intoxicating moral and monetary temptations of the 1920’s, and the financial and cultural adjustments of the 1930’s. Fortunes are made and lost, affairs are begun and abandoned, and children grow up and have children of their own. The book concludes during the chaotic early years of WWII.
Though many characters are involved, much of the story revolves around the sometimes tender but often fraught relationship between Thérèse Brun, who wants to live a simple, loving, traditional life, and Bernard Jacquelain, who is cynical after his harrowing experiences of trench warfare in WWI and bent on grasping all the pleasure he can through fast living, luxury surroundings, and assignations with willing women, not caring--at least at first--about the cost.
So far I have loved everything I’ve read by Nemirovsky. She excels at painting a scene, so it’s easy to imagine the colors, ambiance, and smells of her settings. And she brings readers inside the hearts and minds of her characters in sometimes long internal monologues, but her writing is always sensually and emotionally rich, never dry. This is a compact book, only 240 pages long, but Nemirovsky makes every word and image count.