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July 19, 2010 6:23 am
Jezebel, by Irène Némirovsky, Vintage, RRP£8.99, 199 pages
In a Paris courtroom, elderly Gladys Eysenach stands trial accused of murdering her much younger lover, Bernard Martin. After 40 pages of witnesses offering glimpses into her conflicted life, Gladys is found guilty. The remainder of this slender, but engrossing, novel fleshes out the bare bones of those testimonies in a chronicle of obsession and egomania.
A stunning society belle, the young Gladys danced her way through the balls and salons of fin de siècle Paris and London, taking lovers before and during her marriage to a wealthy financier. The advent of a daughter puts cracks in the porcelain façade of her self-image, and desperation sets in as Gladys begins to battle the incontrovertible fact of ageing. But just who was Bernard Martin?
Némirovsky’s subtle twist and typically jewelled prose presents the glittering enormity of Gladys, an unsympathetic but vividly realised character who dominates this tale in a fascinating portrait of paranoid self-absorption.
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