Monday, 8 August 2022

Némirovsky, Irène "La Proie"

Némirovsky, Irène "La Proie" [The Prey] - 1938

I'm amazed how someone can write such a brilliant book in times of trouble. Granted, the Nazis hadn't come to power, yet, but there was so much anti-Semitism all over Europe that any Jew must have been worried, especially those with such a sensitive understanding of the world like the author.

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, then Russia. Her family fled to France during the Russian Revolution but they never received French citizenship. She was Jewish but converted to Catholicism. Not that it helped her. She was deported to Auschwitz and died there in 1942, aged 39.

"La Proie" (The Prey) is not about anything like that. It's about the life of Jean-Luc Daguerne who marries a rich heiress in order to move up in life. His dreams and plans his successes and failures. He rises in society both politically and financially but he doesn't care much about his wife, family, relationship to friends and colleagues.

I don't want to tell much more about the story in order not to give too much away. Unfortunately, the book has only been translated into very few languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, so similar languages) but should you speak French, I can heartily recommend this relatively short novel.

Book description (translated):

"'Nothing is more bitter than to see superhuman efforts yield so little happiness. There is only one possible consolation: to say to oneself that there is no happiness.' Published for the first time in 1938, this novel with Stendhalian accents recounts the social rise and then the fall of an ambitious young man, Jean-Luc Daguerne, that love for his beautiful will lead to his loss. On this proven plot, Irène Némirovsky makes the words dance with humor and brilliantly plays with human passions and the cruelties of fate. But this Prey nevertheless owes a lot to the Roaring Twenties, their tragic energy, their shattered hopes. It is this frantic race towards the abyss that makes them modern."

And from another edition:

"Portrait of a Julien Sorel * of the 1930s against a backdrop of economic crisis, rising unemployment and widespread anxiety, La Proie is the novel of a world that is tottering. A tragic love story, this intimate and cruel tale traces the rise and fall of a young man of humble origins. Betrayed by the beloved woman, after having lived a pure passion with the heiress of a dynasty of bankers, he decides to take his revenge. But can we force fate? A mixture of recklessness and seriousness, of impatience with the future and lightness of living, as often with Irène Némirovsky, La Proie is a restless and lucid novel that bears the imprint of this great writer, crowned posthumously by the 2004 Renaudot Prize for French Suite."

* from "Le Rouge et le Noir" (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal, 1830.

I read this as part of my Paris in July experience and to add another classic novel to my Classic Spin list.

I also read "Suite Française"


  1. I'm hoping that I can fit in 'Suite Française' by the end of the year.

    1. Thanks, Kitten. I hope you can. It is also a great read.

  2. Replies
    1. That's what most people have read, if any. They are both very good books.