“Until this point one could almost say that other people had been living his life for him.”
This is the first of George Simenon’s so-called roman durs that I have read and I am hooked. Loosely translated as “hard novel”, these books bear very little resemblance to his work on the Maigret series. In these pages he takes on the the dark heart of the petit bourgeousie, with a clear and uncompromising eye.
Dr. Mahe is an established country doctor with an appropriately well-ordered life. His household is run by his mother, and to a lesser extent his wife, and things have been the same for as long as he can remember. One year, chance breaks him out of the norm when the family spends their holiday on the Ile de Porquerolles in the south of France. At first this drastic change unsettles and vexes him and his family. Then a chance meeting leads him to an unlikely obsession and over the next four years becomes his undoing.
The pacing of this novel threw me off a little at the beginning. It felt like it was going nowhere, and I struggled against that. Early on I did not find the doctor to be a sympathetic character and the slow start worried me. Was I going to be stuck with this milquetoast dud for the entire book? Then I just got the hang of the thing. Simenon’s language was always clear and concise but still had moments of pure poetry. Several times I would go back and savor a line or a passage. By the last third of the book, I was looking up titles of other books in this vein, looking forward to where those tales might take me.