Novella Review: Le Bal

From Le Bal by Irene Nemirovsky

le bal

Le Bal is actually a compilation of two novellas by Irene Nemirovsky: “Le Bal” and “Snow in Autumn”. This review focuses on the first and title novella.

In 1930s Paris, the Kampfs have recently risen is economic and therefore social standing. They decide to throw a party to introduce themselves into Parisian high society. In the course of preparing for the ball, the already strained relationship between the social climbing mother and angsty teenage daughter reaches breaking point.

Rosine Kampf is a typical nouveau riche, always needing to prove her status to everyone including the help. This makes her even harsher and more abusive towards her daughter Antoinette. Under the combined stress of wanting to be treated as an adult and being fed up with the constant bullying of her mother, Antoinette makes a decision that brings about her mother’s ruin.

Nemirovsky created such a nuanced unravelling of events that it is unfair and simplistic to label “Le Bal” as a revenge story. Antoinette did not plot to exact revenge on her mother. Rather, young and given to passions as she is, Antoinette got swept up by a moment of rebellion, of wanting to become her own person. In that moment, she had sealed both her’s and her mother’s fate.

It was at this moment, this fleeting moment that their paths crossed ‘on life’s journey’. One of them was about to ascend, and the other to plunge downwards into darkness. But neither of them realised it.

Irene Nemirovsky was born in Kiev on February 11, 1903 but her family escaped to France during the Russian Revolution. In 1939 when Nazi Germany was on the rise, Nemirovsky, of Russian-Jewish descent, converted to Catholicism. However, in 1942, Nemirovsky was still taken prisoner for being a “stateless person of Jewish descent”. She died on the 17th of August that same year in Auschwitz.

Perhaps it was the troubles Nemirovsky witnessed that allowed her to write such vividly dislikeable characters. It seems that she, the author herself, regards her own characters with a certain degree of aloof contempt. Rosine in “Le Bal” is a caricature of the desperate socialite wannabe and Antoinette has absurdly juvenile ideas of what being an adult means. In truth, with the roller coaster ride of angst, passions and bitter aspirations,  “Le Bal” had a strong tendency towards the melodramatic. It is a testament to Nemirovsky’s skill that she could walk dangerously close to distasteful yet safely arrive at a starkly beautiful conclusion.

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