He stretched his delicate fingers in the air and clicked them like castanets. Florence handed him a lemon, then an orange and some glacé strawberries; he consumed an enormous amount of fruit. She gazed at him, almost kneeling before him on a suede pouffe, in that attitude of adoration that pleased him so much (though he couldn't have imagined any other). He was tired, but it was that good tiredness which comes from doing enjoyable work. Sometimes he said it was better than the tiredness that comes after making love.
He looked benevolently at his mistress. "Well, that's not gone too badly, I think. And you know, the midpoint." (He drew a triangle in the air indicating its top.) "I've got past it."
She knew what he meant. Inspiration flagged in the middle of a novel. At those moments, Corte struggled like a horse trying in vain to pull a carriage out of the mud. She brought her hands together in a gracious gesture of admiration and surprise. "Already! I congratulate you, my dear. Now it will go smoothly, I'm sure."
"God willing!" he murmured. "But Lucienne worries me."
He looked at her scornfully, his eyes hard and cold. When he was in a good mood, Florence would say, "You still have that killer look in your eye . . ." and he would laugh, flattered. But he hated being teased when in the throes of creativity.
She couldn't even remember who Lucienne was.
"Of course," she lied. "I don't know what I was thinking!"
"I don't know either," he said in a wounded voice.
But she seemed so sad and humble that he took pity on her and softened. "I keep telling you, you don't pay enough attention to the minor characters. A novel should be like a street full of strangers, where no more than two or three people are known to us in depth. Look at writers like Proust. They knew how to use minor characters to humiliate, to belittle their protagonists. In a novel, there is nothing more valuable than teaching the lesson of humility to the heroes. Remember, in War and Peace, the little peasant girls who cross the road, laughing, in front of Prince Andrei's carriage? He speaks to them, directly, and the reader's imagination is at once lifted; now there is not just one face, not just one soul. He portrays the many faces of the crowd. Wait, I'll read you that passage, it's remarkable. Put the light on," he said, for night had fallen.
"Planes," Florence replied, looking up at the sky.
"Won't they leave me the hell alone?" he thundered.
He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. It continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he'd taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.
"God!" he sighed. "How upsetting, what a nightmare!"
Brought back down to earth, he asked to see the newspapers. She gave them to him without a word. They came in from the terrace and he leafed through the papers, a dark look on his face. "All in all," he said, "nothing new."
He didn't want to see anything new. He dismissed reality with the bored, startled gesture of a sleeping man awakened abruptly in the middle of a dream. He even shaded his eyes with his hand as if to block out a dazzling light.
Florence walked towards the radio. He stopped her. "No, no, leave it alone."
"But Gabriel . . ."
He went white with anger. "Listen to me! I don't want to hear anything. Tomorrow, tomorrow will be soon enough. If I hear any bad news now (and it can only be bad with these c**** in government) my momentum will be lost, my inspiration blocked. Look, you'd better call Mademoiselle Sudre. I think I'll dictate a few pages!" She hurried to summon the secretary.
Excerpted from Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky Copyright © 2006 by Irene Nemirovsky. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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