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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Ball
(Le Bal)

Irène Némirovsky

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Ball

Title: The Ball
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1930 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 42 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair - US
in Le Bal - UK
in David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair - Canada
Le bal - Canada
Le bal - France
Der Ball - Deutschland
  • French title: Le bal
  • Translated by Sandra Smith
  • Published in David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair in the US
  • Published in Le Bal in the UK

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Our Assessment:

A- : sharp and to the quick

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 10/11/2007 Melissa Katsoulis
Haaretz . 13/2/2008 Gerald Sorin
The Independent . 23/11/2007 Emma Hagestadt
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/11/2008 J.M.Coetzee
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/3/2008 Thomas Mallon
Salon . 6/2/2008 Allen Barra
The Times . 2/11/2007 Christina Koning
TLS . 2/11/2007 Emilie Bickerton
Die Welt . 17/9/2005 Tilman Krause

  From the Reviews:
  • "As you would expect, it's full of social comment and adolescent angst." - Melissa Katsoulis, Financial Times

  • "The story is an implausible fairy tale, a "revenge fantasy" for the author, who no doubt identifies with Antoinette. (...) This ending, with its implication that "human nature is incomprehensible" (a mantra of Nemirovsky's) raises the novella beyond simple melodrama." - Gerald Sorin, Haaretz

  • "Le Bal captures an insidiously unhealthy relationship between a socially ambitious mother and her 14-year-old daughter." - Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

  • "It is perhaps Némirovsky's most telling weakness as a writer that she is unable to do anything with this material beyond reproducing it again and again." - J.M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

  • "The Ball is more like a Maupassant short story than a Balzac novel, except for its ending, whose implacable absence of sentiment seems to have trumped any temptation the author may have had to fulfill genre conventions." - Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Ball, about a 14-year-old girl observing her parents' preparations for a huge party, is melodramatic and negligible." - Allen Barra, Salon

  • "The scene in which, having caused the collapse of her mother's hopes, Antoinette watches her unobserved from behind a sofa in the deserted ballroom, is wonderful." - Christina Koning, The Times

  • "Le Bal and Les Mouches d'automne suggest that Nemirovsky was at her best with the short story. Suite Française drew much of its strength from its self-contained vignettes, and these stories, which were first published in 1929 and 1930, show the author at ease with the form." - Emilie Bickerton, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Die Grausamkeit des Mädchens, das sich für seine Zurücksetzung rächt, wird noch überboten durch die Grausamkeit der Autorin, die ihrerseits mit Wonne beschreibt, wie Monsieur, vor allem aber Madame Kampf im Angesicht der herausgeputzten Wohnung und des feixenden, unbeschäftigt bleibenden Personals vollkommen die Beherrschung verlieren. (...) Ein furioses, rasant erzähltes Stück schwärzester Satire." - Tilman Krause, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Ball may be a slim novella, but it is a concentrated effort, Némirovsky at her best (and malicious worst). It is the story of Alfred and Rosine Kampf, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Antoinette. The Kampfs lived humbly until recently, but Alfred suddenly found success and their circumstances have changed drastically. They have moved into a huge apartment, and now are trying to establish themselves in society. And so it is time for them to throw their first grand ball.
       Madame Kampf has grand ambitions, but her husband reminds her that one has to put up with quite a bit if one wants to work one's way up -- and so also:

     "We must be methodical, my dear. For a first party, invite anyone and everyone -- as many of the sods as you can stand. When it comes to the second or third you can start to be selective. This time we have to invite everyone in sight."
       For all the high society that is invited, a lot of them have questionable pasts : some have been jailed for fraud, some were prostitutes. But this is a society where the only measure of true worth is money, and wealth is enough to gloss of over any unseemly past.
       Antoinette is roped into helping to write the invitations, but though she desperately wants to be part of the grand affair her mother will have none of that: this is her stage to shine on. A cot will be set up for the girl in a dingy back room, and she is to go to bed at 9:00, as usual -- an hour before the ball is even set to begin. All her mother wants is for her to be out of the way.
       Antoinette is at that age where she imagines adult life -- love and balls and the like -- and resents how her parents are holding her back. More than most sullen teens she has a point: self-absorbed mom is worried about aging and she's unforgivably dismissive of her upstart daughter. But the ball affords Antoinette an opportunity to strike a devastating blow, and change their situations forever.
       Némirovsky's scenario is slightly implausible, and yet in the way everything unfolds seems believable enough. Antoinette doesn't set out to wreck her mother's grand night, but a series of small events convincingly set everything into motion.
       The characters are very nicely drawn, from prototypical teen Antoinette to the horrible mother to the poor relation, piano teacher Mademoiselle Isabelle. This is a family at its self-destructive worst, a (melo)drama Némirovsky gleefully recounts.
       A sharp social satire, The Ball is almost too remorseless to stand -- but so well done that it's impossible to turn away. With each cutting aside and observation Némirovsky reveals more and more of the utter falseness and shallowness of what passes for 'society', the high as base as anything one could imagine. And in making what happens in what winds up being essentially a family drama such a pivotal point in the lives of mother and daughter the story also feels much fuller than if it were just the account of a failed ball.
       Well worthwhile, and bitterly enjoyable.

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The Ball: Reviews: Irène Némirovsky: Other books by Irene Nemirovsky under review: Books about Irène Némirovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903. Her family moved to France, where she became a successful and popular author in the 1930s. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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