It is said out of all Irène Némirovsky’s novels The Wine of Solitude is the most autobiographical. Dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships are a recurring theme in Némirovsky’s novels I have read, but none of them have examined those relationships up close like The Wine of Solitude.
In The Wine of Solitude, Hélène Karol’s mother is a beautiful woman with a much younger lover, and her father is a hardworking man who turns a blind eye towards his wife’s dalliances. With both of them absorbed in their worlds, Mademoiselle Rose, Hélène’s Parisian nanny is the only one who truly cares for Hélène. One day after Rose dies tragically on a cold night in the streets of St. Petersburg soon after she was dismissed by Hélène’s mother in a fit of rage, Hélène becomes determined to seek revenge on her mother. So The Wine of Solitude is the story of Hélène’s quest for revenge.
One aspect I liked most about the novel is its ending. We see Hélène blossoming from the little girl who lost her beloved nanny into a confident, beautiful woman who is always scheming against her mother, before coming to turns with the self-realization which would finally liberate her.
The Wine of Solitude also highlights the skillful writing of Irène Némirovsky, beautifully portraying the places from Ukraine to Paris and beyond. This is the opening paragraph;
In the part of the world where Hélène Karol was born, dusk began with a thick cloud of dust that swirled slowly in the air before drifting to the ground, bringing the damp night with it. A hazy, reddish light lingered low in the sky; the wind brought the smell of the Ukrainian plains to the city, a mild yet bitter scent of smoke, cold water and rushes that grew along the riverbanks. The wind blew in from Asia; it had pushed its way between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea; it brought with it whirls of yellow dust that cracked between the teeth; it was dry and biting; it filled the air with a howl that faded as it disappeared towards the west. Then all was calm. The setting sun, pale and dull, veiled behind whitish clouds, sank deep into the river.
The Wine of Solitude is a good novel, and I would have liked to give it 4 stars. But I feel the story is not good enough when compared to The Courilof Affair, David Golder, or The Misunderstanding, and that is why I stopped at 3 stars.