Sunday, September 21, 2008

Five best: books about social class

David Lodge is the author of Changing Places, Nice Work, and other novels, including the newly released Deaf Sentence.

He named a five best list of books on the subject of social class for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
Suite Française
by Irène Némirovsky
Knopf, 2006

Evelyn Waugh maintained that England didn't have social classes but instead an order of precedence, which extended in a minutely discriminated sequence from the humblest laborer to the monarch. Whatever the truth of that observation, the social classes in France have been historically divided between aristocracy, bourgeoisie and proletariat, with clearly defined subgroups and pecking orders within each category. Irène Némirovsky's unfinished "Suite Française" gives a riveting and unflattering picture of the French class system put under pressure by Nazi Germany's invasion and occupation of France in 1940. Némirovsky had planned to write a sequence of five novellas but completed just the first two before she was tragically swept away on the black tide of the Holocaust. The first, "Storm in June," describing the panic-stricken flight of Parisians from the capital -- loading their best linen and china into automobiles, ruthlessly competing for food, petrol and accommodation -- is a horribly convincing spectacle of human selfishness and folly. The second entry, "Dolce," is equally telling as it portrays a rural community where various subgroups are more obsessed with preserving their ancient privileges than with the outcome of the war.
Read about Number One on Lodge's list.

--Marshal Zeringue