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Jezebel by Irène Némirovsky

Jezebel (1936)

by Irène Némirovsky

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Irene Nemirovsky is a genius. This is Dostoevsky compressed and a pocket Anna Karenina--a story about passion and the human condition. ( )
  newskepticx | Dec 18, 2013 |
The opening of this books is something of an infodump – a woman, Gladys Eysenach, is accused of murdering her young lover and her life story is related in a large chunk. The rest of the book goes back and covers her life up to that point, giving the reader a different view of the dispassionately related events. I thought that the in-depth look at Gladys would be more sympathetic than the judge’s description, which showed her to be a shallow, hedonistic woman. However, Nemirovsky’s portrayal of her is even more shallow and hedonistic, along with a side of creepy. The story is mostly told from Gladys’ POV and it can be a bit uncomfortable reading all her thoughts. It is all effectively done though, and the book is a penetrating and very readable depiction of a horrible person.

Gladys’ story starts when she is a young woman first realizing the power of her beauty. Her unhappy childhood up to that point prevented her from thinking about such things, but her cousin takes her out into society and she soon learns how attractive she is. Nemirovsky portrays Gladys’ life after that in a series of quick and effective scenes, summarizing several affairs and her marriage to Richard Eysenach. Richard is one of the few people who Gladys really cares about, and she thinks fondly of him for years after his death. However, there are hints that even that relationship is memorable mostly due to Gladys’ narcissism and obsession with youth. It seemed based on strict gender division – Richard was concerned with money and power, Gladys with looking good and being amenable – and Richard pretty much treated Gladys as a spoiled, pretty child. He also died before he could ever see her grow old.

Soon enough, Gladys starts lying about her age but her daughter, Marie-Therese, is evidence. Her relationship with her daughter is horribly selfish, competitive and disturbing. It becomes clear that she has no true friends – only women that she competes with and sees as rivals. Men are only seen as lovers or admirers. As she ages, she still remains beautiful but is no longer so stunning that men stop on the street or only pay attention to her, facts which cause Gladys to panic. Despite being extremely self-involved and narcissistic, she absolutely needs people to provide her with admiration, love and something to be compared (favorably) to. The war and other disruptions in the early decades of the 20th century give Gladys excuses to shed her social circle various times and lie about her age. Her obsession with her age prevents her from getting close to anyone and affects her relationship with the murdered man, Bernard Martin, which is also quite disturbing and unhealthy.

Gladys is not a character that anyone can like and I always felt some separation from her even though the book was mainly from her POV. It is certainly hard to sympathize with someone who thinks this –
“Yes, there was music, poetry, books…but she knew very well that those things were only useful to be more seductive, because even the most beautiful face can look tired, unattractive in a moment of boredom or fatigue; but to her, as for most women, such things meant nothing, they didn’t really affect her. A few passionate, melancholy lines or poetry, some beautiful, lyrical words: they were just offerings to a man, for him alone, and when the man was gone, nothing remained.”
However, Nemirovsky did a very good job getting into her head and clearly delineating her obsessions. Nemirovsky is probably as famous for her life as for her works and one part of her life that appeared in her books is the selfish and narcissistic mother. The introduction notes that her mother refused to take in Nemirovsky’s orphaned daughters after she and her husband died at Auschwitz and instead suggested they be taken to an orphanage. Obviously the author could have known nothing about this but it creates a horrible parallel to this book. One can readily imagine Gladys Eysenach doing such a thing as well. ( )
2 vote DieFledermaus | Jul 21, 2013 |
This was fascinating. Starts with the trial of an older woman, accused of murdering her young lover. The rest of the book is the story of her life, culminating the the murder (I won't let on whodunit). The woman is Gladys, and her life is told from a young girl to the present time. She's not very likeable; she's attractive to men, but very self absorbed (in my mind). And that self absorbtion is the cause of her current predicament. I found myself feeling sorry for her, but thinking that it was largely self inflicted.
There's a distinct twist in the tail and it's a good read. ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Overall, I enjoyed the book. Although it isn’t my favourite book by Némirovsky, it was still a good read, she was a talented author, with beautiful storytelling skills and this book is no exception to that. The plot may not have been a favourite of mine, but it was a well written book.

This story was interesting at first, as we see the ending, before the reader really knows the story. I enjoyed the court proceedings, and wondered how Gladys came to this point in the story. How and why she murdered the young man. The book eventually turns to her past, examining her life that leads up to the murder. It’s the bulk of the story, and focuses on Gladys’ character and development. I both liked and disliked Gladys’ character; on one hand she did what she wanted for her self, reached for her goals, and got for the most part, what she wanted in life and what made her happy. On the other hand, the same traits made her self-absorbed, vain and selfish, to the point others she loved suffered around her. Most of the time she wasn’t a very likeable character, but she did fascinate me.

The overall story isn’t one I normally like - as it focuses on a type of character I usually don’t enjoy reading about. it had a lot of the same themes as books similar to it, which I didn’t enjoy and I also found parts of the story were predictable. But overall it was still and enjoyable read. And as much as Gladys’ flawed character irked me at times, I was shouting at her to kill the young man she was accused of killing in the end. He was barely in the book, but I was glad for his quick exit. It may not have been my favourite type of story, but I still enjoyed the overall reading experience of it.

Review is also posted on my book review blog Jules' Book Reviews - Jezebel ( )
  bookwormjules | Feb 22, 2011 |
I don't know what drew mw to this book, but it must have been something good. Apparently this book was originally written in french and has been translated into english, something that is quit unusual for me to have contemplated.
The basic story is that of the life of a woman on trial for the murder of her "lover" in a french court. This is the story of a life of privelage, but also the underside of that privelage where we have the main character atttempting to maintain the illusion of youth no matter what it takes.
This is not an exposet, this is not the main character looking for sympathy, infact it is a story that she refuses to tell anyone, maintining the illusion for the court is more important that any punishment. Though I would say that she is deluded enough to think that they would not inflict anything to rought on a lady such as herself.
It is not perhaps a book I might have normally chosen but it is one well worth the read
  jessicariddoch | Jul 24, 2010 |
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In a French courtroom, the trial of a woman is taking place. Gladys Eysenach is no longer young, but she is still beautiful, elegant, cold. She is accused of shooting dead her much-younger lover. As the witnesses take the stand and the case unfolds, Gladys relives fragments of her past: her childhood, her absent father, her marriage, her turbulent relationship with her daughter, her decline, and then the final irrevocable act.… (more)

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