Mood and Irony
• Némirovsky installs the entire novel into the times by setting up the mood and feelings of her characters to match the environment. The novel begins poignantly on the night of the air raid. We feel the heat and hear the siren, which sounds like a “a long breath, like air being forced into a deep sigh.” (p.3) She successfully conveys the feeling of anxiety that first hovers in the air and then explodes into panic as the sirens wail and the first bombs begin to fall. Each of her characters reacts to this anxiety in a different way.
• At this point, Némirovsky switches to detailed comparative description as she explores their bizarre behaviors. She contrasts and juxtaposes rich with poor, urban with rural, character with character, French with German, patriot with soldier. She measures courage, patriotism, and humanity by using irony and satire, pointing out clearly that human behavior is predictable only because no one, least of all the characters themselves, can truly guess what he or she will do in any given situation. Especially in a serious situation, a person’s response can be quite unusual and strange.
• She never runs out of ways to satirize her characters in order to expose their deepest fears and how they project these fears in this time of war.
• The suite is the oldest form of cyclical music ever written and is still used today. “Suite” in old French meant “order.” Later in seventeenth and eighteenth-century English, it came to mean “lesson.” Therefore, a suite is a musical piece with an intention to educate.
• As the term became integrated into the lexicon of music, it came to represent a set of two or more contrasting elements that fit nicely together. (Oxford Music) These elements, linked by the same themes, could also be set into major and minor musical keys, which help to interpret those themes with more emotion.
• As we examine Suite Française, we see that its main focus is war – how war affects people and how war changes their interactions. Némirovsky begins by stringing together single interconnected short stories, as if each one is a melody line in a symphony. Hence the musical title, Suite Française.
• Némirovsky had first conceived of the book as having four sections to parallel the four movements in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But she quickly realized that the story needed to include a fifth section. “Yes, to do it well, should have 5 parts of 200 pages each. A 1000 page book. Ah, God!” (p.352) It would be interesting to know if her thousand-page goal was also meant to poke fun at Hitler’s claim that the Third Reich would last a thousand years.
• While Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, it was his fifth that came to be used by the Allies as a symbol of victory. The first four sharp and pointed notes are very strong, especially in their repetition, and because they were so familiar, they became very motivating for the soldiers. The notes became the stimulus to jump into battle. There is a paradox in the fact that this music, written by a German composer, would be used to help defeat the German army. Némirovsky would have deeply appreciated this irony.