On his 48th birthday, Norbert Monde meticulously shaves and dresses for work as he does every day, plants a dry kiss on his second wife’s forehead and walks down to his study to have his breakfast. He is quite detached from his upper middle class life, thinking idly about this and that. As he goes about his day at the company he owns and operates, he becomes aware of a slight shift in his mind and bearing. By the end of the day, he has gone to his bank and withdrawn a large sum of money, being mindful that there is still plenty set aside for his business and his family in the banks vault. Then he trades his expensive hand tailored suit for an off the rack number and boards a train for the south.
While staying in a modest hotel, he intervenes when his next door neighbor, a young woman named Julie, has a fight with her lover and swallows several pills in an attempt to kill herself. This odd couple then strike up a relationship, not easily defined but strangely fulfilling nonetheless. When his large store of cash is stolen, Julie finds them jobs in a local casino and they fall into a routine. One day M. Monde’s ex-wife comes to the casino, precipitating a major shift once again. The journey of discovery Monsieur Monde takes finally imbues him with a sang froid and serenity that has been missing.
I loved loved loved this book, certainly my favorite Simenon so far. The language, while still clear and succinct, has a lyrical quality that I haven’t found in the other romans durs I have encountered. I just started Pierre Assouline’s excellent biography and now all I want to do is sit in a quiet cafe, sip espresso or the appropriate adult beverages, and read every Simenon book I can get my hands on. Hmmmmmm, my theme for CBR8? Peut-être.