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The Engagement (New York Review Books) [Paperback]

John Gray , Georges Simenon , Anna Moschovakis
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2009 New York Review Books
"Simenon's romans durs are extraordinary: tough, bleak, offhandedly violent, suffused with guilt and bitterness, redolent of place . . . utterly unsentimental, frightening in the pitilessness of their gaze, yet wonderfully entertaining." - John Banville



On the outskirts of Paris, a prostitute is found murdered in a vacant lot. In a seedy apartment house nearby lives pasty, fat Mr. Hire. Mr. Hire who earns his living through a petty postal scam, is a convicted pornographer, a peeping Tom, and, once a week, the unlikely star of a Parisian bowling club, where people think he works for the police. He is a faceless man of regular habits who keeps to himself and gives his neighbors the creeps. After the murder, Mr. Hire's concierge points a finger at him: he was out late the night of the crime. The police have the suspect under twenty-four-hour surveillance. They are only waiting for him to make the inevitable mistake and give himself away. Except that creepy Mr. Hire is in fact an innocent man, whose only mistake is to have fallen head-over-heels in love with the wrong girl.



One of the most chilling and compassionate of Simenon's extraordinary psychological novels, The Engagement explores the mystery of a blameless heart in a compromised soul.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (1 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172280
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172285
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

One of Simenon's most compelling psychological novels. (Tribune)

These are novels of eye-opening, spine-tingling control and intensity. Their prefaces, by writers such as John Gray and Paul Theroux, forcefully argue the case for Simenon. To spend a Christmas pleasurably sunk in the deepest shades of noir, look no further. (Independent)

Novels of eye-opening, spine-tingling control and intensity. To spend a Christmas pleasurably sunk in the deepest shades of noir, look no further. (Sunday Tribune)

About the Author

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was born in Liège, Belgium. In 1923 he moved to Paris, where under various pseudonyms he became a highly successful author of pulp fiction. In the early 1930s, Simenon emerged as a writer under his own name, gaining renown for his detective stories featuring Inspector Maigret. He also began to write his psychological novels, or romans durs. He wrote nearly two hundred books under his own name and became the worldwide best-selling.

John Gray is Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.

Anna Moschovakis is a poet and translator living in Brooklyn.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
THE CONCIERGE cleared her throat before knocking, fixed her eyes on the Belle-Jardiniere catalog in her hand, and announced, "Mail for you, Mr. Hire." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A prostitute is found dead, a strange lonesome man watches an alluring woman from his dirty, tobacco-stained bedsit. This is the world of Georges Simenon and one in which you should luxuriate in inhabiting. The dank bars filled with unsavoury characters, the quiet desperation of an essentially good, yet flawed man, this is writing that explores the underside of life in an incredibly vivid manner. Simenon is a writer of rare talent who manages to perfectly capture the seedy underside of European culture - you can easily imagine yourself inhabiting this world of rain, neon lights and grey-blue tinge of Gauloises-smoke filled bars. Uncompromising, unsentimental this, along with all his other roman durs or "hard novels", is writing of the highest quality. Forget Maigret and take your first step into Simenon's world with these wonderful republications from the New York Review of Books.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chasing the wrong Prime Suspect 21 July 2012
By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Simenon was very much like his English contemporary Graham Greene in that he simultaneously wrote serious literature (his "romans vers") and popular entertainments (the Maigret detective novels). This explains why at mid 20th century he was admired by Gide and the lions of French letters, indeed, young aspiring writers like Camus and Robbe-Grillet started out by penning stories that pastiched strands of Simenon's oeuvre. But where by the late 20th century Greene's weightier novels had moved to center stage in readers' minds, Simenon's reputation has unjustly declined due his serious ethically-focussed fiction being lost from public view, and the ascendency of the money-spinning thrillers.

Simenon's "romans vers" (hard novels) are gritty tales of sordid and ungiving everyday life, in the tradition of Dickens and Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Gissing (all acknowledged influences). These hard stories usually centre on a seachange event in the life of one of three potential male characters: it might be a figure from the criminal underworld (like the hoodlum in the novel Dirty Snow), an unremarkable middleclass person (the lawyer in The Strangers in the House), or a figure in the seamy side of politics (the anarchist in "The Green Thermos"). Invariably this figure is manoeuvred into some sort of impasse, and presented with a difficult moral decision about his actions.

"The Engagement" is one of Simenon's earliest romans vers where he develops this new form.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You shall become engaged to a woman 29 Nov 2010
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
but another man shall lie with her." Deuteronomy 28:30

Georges Simenon was nothing if not prolific in both his literary and public life. Born in Belgium in 1903, Simenon turned out hundreds of novels. Simenon's obsession with writing caused him to break off an affair (he was prolific in this area of his life as well) with the celebrated Josephine Baker in Paris when he could only write twelve novels in the twelve month period in which they were involved. Although perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret detective novels, Simenon also wrote over a hundred novels that he referred to as `romans durs' (literally "hard novels"). These hard stories typically involve a person's descent from normality (or a life that seems to bear the appearance of normality) into nihilism and despair. Usually there is a triggering event, a murder, a bankruptcy, or simply too much to drink on a road trip. The publishing arm of `"The New York Review" NYRB Books is reissuing Simenon's hard novels. "The Engagement" is one of Simenon's earliest hard novels and it was hard to put down. The story line is rather a simple one.

Mr. Hire is a quiet man. But he isn't quiet in the way that he blends into the background. He's quiet in the way that his neighbors find him odd and more than a bit scary. Odd in such a way that children are pulled into their parent's apartment when he is heard walking around in his Paris apartment. And, critically for "The Engagement", odd in such a way that when a neighborhood prostitute is found murdered, the concierge in his apartment tells the police Hire is the culprit. "The Engagement" is a study in contrasts. It gives us Mr.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NYRB brings out another of simenon's great psychological novels 4 Mar 2007
By d e ford jr - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Originally published in 1933, this slim volume already showcases Simenon's unique brand of realism, which eschews easy humanism in favor of a punishingly bleak moral universe. The story centers on Mr. Hire, the middle-aged son of working class immigrant parents. When a prostitute is murdered in his neighborhood, Hire's asocial habits, petty criminal record and ethically dubious profession leads the police to his door. Fed by the suspicions of vindictive neighbors, detectives tail him relentlessly, waiting for Hire to slip up and yield any evidence linking him to the crime. Readers of Simenon's so called 'romans durs' will find The Engagement to be an excellent early example of its type. Furthermore, the brief afterword by John Gray provides informative context for the novel as well as evidence of a rare instance of autobiographical sourcing.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When the Internal and External Collide 26 Mar 2007
By Dash Manchette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When a prostitute is murdered in an abandoned lot, all eyes look towards Mr. Hire as the suspect. The reader can certainly understand why. Hire makes his income in a petty postal scam and his main hobby is peeping on the woman across the courtyard as she undresses. His past is no better, with a conviction for petty sex offenses and some time in prison. No wonder the guy is in the crosshairs.

Yet THE ENGAGEMENT is one of Simenon's roman durs (hard novels) with more of a noir edge to them. Hire is innocent of the crime but, as is true for the roman durs, hardly innocent in any other application of the term. Hire's apparently empty internal world collides with the external as Hire realizes that some others, specifically the police, do not consider him to be as inconsequential as he thought. The scene in which Hire discovers at the train station that he is being watched and followed was among the most simple yet powerful scenes I have encountered of a character's horror at having his comfortable little world disturbed through no fault of one's own.

Despite his initial shock, Hire soon comes to enjoy being the center of someone's attention and starts showing off for the detectives on his tail. This excitement is heightened when the girl on whom Hire peeps starts showing some romantic interest. But in a morally vacuous world, it is all a ruse. Hire is being played for the sap. Even if the police knew of Hire's innocence, it is questionable whether they would care. They show the same apathy towards the lives of others as everyone else and seem less concerned with nabbing the real murderer than they are in getting the case behind them. They are just playing a different role in the game.

In his roman durs, Simenon shows no concern for issues of right and wrong. The amorality of the world simply is a given in which people are thrust and left to their own devices. It is an interesting world to visit while hoping we never find ourselves as its tenants.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Even from Mr. Hire's room, the goose bumps on her skin were visible." 7 Jun 2007
By John Sollami - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
No question that for Simenon, less is more, as this enormously talented writer in "The Engagement" sketches out the essential lines of his protagonists and their rather drab and robotic lives with such skill that he engages us at every turn. What's real to Simenon is desire, greed, and death. There's little room here for sentiment, and if you're looking for a sweet confection, you've definitely entered the wrong door.

Simenon has created a "modern" twentieth-century man, Mr. Hire, who really has no spiritual or moral center. He simply is a collection of habits and fears, spiced with perverse self-flagellating pleasures and one great but rather ridiculous skill. His alienation from society, which itself is presented as crude and hard and bordering on a violent mob, is sad and almost understandable, considering his dysfunctionality may have a basis in the gross nature of those who surround him. Yet his one soft spot is the highly sexual dairy maid, Alice, who lives directly across from him. Her little piece of paradise is so close that he can see right into her windows.

So goes this Hitchcockian plot as Mr. Hire's robotic life is disrupted by this seductress and by the police. Underlying this plot is Simenon's writing machinery, which carries with it a valueless worldview. The author is really telling us we all amount to very little in the end: a collection of habits, enactments of our desires, and vain hopes for a better life. Why we are who we are is not of any significance to what we do while we are here in this life.

I found this work to be extraordinary in its philosophical and psychological implications. Simenon was way ahead of his time as a writer and thinker. Not only that, his selection of detail and his ability to draw up whole scenes through the skillful use of the five senses could teach many a writer how to make the page come alive.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You shall become engaged to a woman 21 Mar 2007
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
but another man shall lie with her." Deuteronomy 28:30

Georges Simenon was nothing if not prolific in both his literary and public life. Born in Belgium in 1903, Simenon turned out hundreds of novels. Simenon's obsession with writing caused him to break off an affair (he was prolific in this area of his life as well) with the celebrated Josephine Baker in Paris when he could only write twelve novels in the twelve month period in which they were involved. Although perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret detective novels, Simenon also wrote over a hundred novels that he referred to as `romans durs' (literally "hard novels"). These hard stories typically involve a person's descent from normality (or a life that seems to bear the appearance of normality) into nihilism and despair. Usually there is a triggering event, a murder, a bankruptcy, or simply too much to drink on a road trip. The publishing arm of `"The New York Review" NYRB Books is reissuing Simenon's hard novels. "The Engagement" is one of Simenon's earliest hard novels and it was hard to put down. The story line is rather a simple one.

Mr. Hire is a quiet man. But he isn't quiet in the way that he blends into the background. He's quiet in the way that his neighbors find him odd and more than a bit scary. Odd in such a way that children are pulled into their parent's apartment when he is heard walking around in his Paris apartment. And, critically for "The Engagement", odd in such a way that when a neighborhood prostitute is found murdered, the concierge in his apartment tells the police Hire is the culprit. "The Engagement" is a study in contrasts. It gives us Mr. Hire, going about his daily business and gives us the police (with the helpful assistance of Hire's neighbors) going about their business and slowly obtaining enough information to arrest him for murder.

The storyline may not sound unique but the devil is always in the details. Simenon's prose may be direct and to the point but he manages to paint a compelling picture of his protagonists. Mr. Hire, the concierge, and the young girl across the street with whom Mr. Hire shares a voyeuristic relationship that holds the key to the story line, are all wonderfully drawn. Hire is not an attractive person yet this reader could not help but feel no small amount of empathy toward. It is hard to give examples without divulging too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that Simenon knows how to craft sentences that keep the reader turning page after page after page.

Simenon's hard novels are often referred to as psychological novels but I find that term a bit misleading. Simenon does not analyze. He does not delve deep into his protagonists' minds. He presents a story stripped of moralizing or analysis. He presents the reader with a slice of the human condition, usually an unpleasant slice, and lets the reader deal with the implications, the psychoanalysis if you like. They do offer glimpses into his protagonists' lives even though (or perhaps because) he does not fill in the blanks for you. His character's actions speak for themselves and what they have to say is not always pleasant. In a world of fiction filled with happiness and redemption and the ultimate triumph of good against evil, Simenon is a breath of fresh (if pessimistic) air. I recommend highly all of Simenon's romans durs and The Engagement is no exception. L. Fleisig
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simenonic genius 3 Sep 2007
By Avant-Captain_Nemo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Georges Simeon was the ultimate spy. He perched on the edge of everyone's lives and wrote down in novel form exactly what he saw. The characters in his novels are more real than the characters in real life. All of the action takes place in a field that can only be described as the color gray-the rain cloud field in which our human tragedies and redemptions occur.

I don't know why in lists of great writers of the twentieth century Simenon is not listed - up there with the likes of Kafka, Joyce, Proust, Lovecraft, Chesterton, Djuna Barnes, and all of the other players. Simenon was born for the twentieth century - it finds its most major representation in no other writer.
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