2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2010
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.