By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Monde’s flight is not provoked by any grand crisis, though it is true that his work has ceased to engage him, and his relations with his family are troubled. When he leaves it all behind, he does not run so much as drift, “following a preordained plan, for which he was not responsible.” He takes a train for Marseilles and checks into a featureless hotel, and in the morning half-wakes to find himself in tears, an “endless flow from some deep spring,” and speaking to himself without moving his lips: “He was telling of his infinite aching weariness, which was due not to his journey in a train but to his long journey as a man.”
The state into which Monde has fallen, or to which he has risen, is at once numbed and ecstatic. “He was lucid, not with an everyday lucidity, the sort one finds acceptable, but on the contrary the sort of which one subsequently feels ashamed, perhaps because it confers on supposedly commonplace things the grandeur ascribed to them by poetry and religion.” The insinuation of shame here, utterly unexpected, utterly right, is pure Simenon.
In Marseilles, Monde takes up with Julie, a nightclub performer — “her lips stained the pallid tip of a cigarette with a vivid pink that was more sensuously feminine than a woman’s blood” — and they travel together to Nice. No sooner have they arrived in that city than all of Monde’s money is stolen. The ever-resourceful Julie at once finds jobs for them both at the Monico, a nightclub and run-down casino.
It is at the Monico that Monde re-encounters his first wife, Thérèse, whom he has not seen for 18 years. She is, or was, a nymphomaniac who kept obscene photographs in a secret drawer in her desk and “who had sought out their chauffeur in his attic bedroom and who, when he drove her into town, had him stop in front of dubious apartment houses.” Now fallen on hard times, and a drug addict, she is acting as companion to a rich old lady known as the Empress, an habitué of the Monico.
When the Empress unexpectedly dies, Monde is compelled to take responsibility for Thérèse. He returns with her to Paris, installs her in an apartment in the suburbs, instructs a doctor friend of his to supply her with whatever amounts of morphine she requires, and washes his hands of her. Then he calmly walks back into his old life, to the consternation of his wife, who, during his absence, had been happily settling into the position of rich widow.
She felt impelled to remark: “You haven’t changed.”
He replied, with that composure which he had brought back with him, and under which could be glimpsed a terrifying abyss: “Yes, I have.”
That was all. He was relaxed. He was part of life, as flexible and fluid as life itself.
These romans durs— other NYRB reissues include the insouciantly gruesome The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, another tale of a husband on the run; Tropic Moon, a frightening study of lust and violence in the Belgian Congo; and Red Lights, a subversively straightforward story of American life involving alcoholism, marital disharmony and violent rape — are superb and polished works of art masquerading as pulp fiction. Gide, who admired Simenon, felt that he had not achieved his full potential as an artist, which may be true: If he had tackled his obsessiveness and found a way of slowing himself down, he might have written the leisurely and long-fermented work that Gide apparently expected of him. But that book would not have been a “Simenon,” and it is in the “Simenons,” surely, that Simenon displayed his prodigious and protean genius.
More from Weekly Literary Supplement 2008:
Not Dead Yet: The Novel as Lifeline By JOE DONNELLY
The Escape Artist: John Banville on Georges Simenon By John Banville
Salman Rushdie: An excerpt from The Enchantress of Florence By SALMAN RUSHDIE
Renewing the Faith: McSweeney's Goes Back to Basics, Makes Publishing Fun By MARC WEINGARTEN
The Brief, Wondrous Tournament of Books By NATHAN IHARA
In a Jam: How Suspense Keeps the Novel on Edge By THOMAS PERRY