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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "His passion is so ripe, it needs must break, 12 Nov 2011
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Act of Passion (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
And when it breaks, I fear will issue thence
The foul corruption of a sweet child's death." Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John

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. "Act of Passion" is their latest release. NYRB chooses its Simenons wisely. "Act of Passion" was one of those books you can't put down, an, when you finish you sit back for a while and wonder just what hit you.

Unlike the other Simenon "romans durs" I have read, this is narrated in the first-person. As the story opens Charles Alavoine has been tried and convicted of murder and is sitting in a French prison. The book's narrative is in the form of a lengthy letter written by Alavoine to the examining Magistrate who conducted the pre-trial investigation. It is the story of a life and a lengthy justification of the choices that eventually led to murder. It is clear from the start that the letter will convince no one, not the magistrate nor the reader. However, as set out by Simenon it provides a compelling narrative of a life-gone wrong from the point of view of the wrong-doer.

As in Simenon's other stories, Alavoine is stolid. He is a member of the middle class. A doctor, he has done everything `the right way', or the way one would expect of someone of his station. He got his medical degree, set up a small practice and got married. When his wife dies in childbirth he marries again. The new wife, Alavoine, the children and Alavoine's mother set up a household. Everything seems `normal', a man and a family going through a life without undue fear of hardship. Learning to play bridge seems to be the most daunting task facing Alavoine. But then, totally by chance Alavoine meets a young woman and his life is turned upside down.

There is no mystery in Act of Passion. The reader is presented with the `result' and the rest of the book provides a look inside the life of a man whose fall has already been completed. The heart of the book for me was that examination. Looking out through Alavoine's eyes as he tells his story one can sense the ennui, the boredom, and the sense that Alavoine must have felt, if unconsciously, that this life was one of oppression in a velvet, middle-class environment. Act of Passion is a powerfully told "guilty-but-with-an-explanation" letter. Although unconvincing, it is certainly compelling.

The Introduction to Act of Passion was written by film critic Roger Ebert and in it Ebert states that he has probably read more works by Simenon than any other 20th-century writer. If you haven't read Simenon's `romans durs' you might brush that off as the sort of hype that is to be expect in an Introduction. But, I think after reading this book and a sample of his other work, The Widow (New York Review Books Classics) and Dirty Snow (New York Review Books Classics) are just two, you will realize, as do I, that Ebert's praise is more than justified. L. Fleisig
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Can you imagine the anguish of wandering alone without a shadow in a world where everybody else has one?", 11 Oct 2013
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Act of Passion (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903 - 1989), a prolific author, who wrote a whole series of Inspector Maigret novels, was especially proud of his much more serious novels, his "roman durs," psychological novels in which he considers how ordinary people deal with the many shocks and betrayals of their personal lives. Act of Passion, published in 1947, is one of these romans durs, a novel about which critic Roger Ebert asks in the Introduction "Why is there no sense at the end [of the novel] that justice has been done, or any faith that it can be done?...There are questions for which there are no answers."

The main character here, a physician named Charles Alavoine, admits from the outset that he is guilty of premeditated murder. He decides to write a long explanation about the crime (an explanation which becomes this book), addressing it to the magistrate who interviewed him and the witnesses. Alavoine believes that he and the magistrate have much in common, and that if the magistrate knows why Alavoine committed murder, he will understand that Alavoine has permanently freed himself and the victim from the torments inflicted by phantoms. He believes he has "delivered" her from them, thereby allowing their love to last forever, unsullied. "Until someone has admitted [that I acted with premeditation], I shall be alone in the world."

What follows is a thorough investigation of the doctor's life, told from the doctor's own point of view, his early family history, his first marriage, the death of his first wife, and his second marriage to the "serene" Armande, a woman who approached life with cold rationality. Except for one brief encounter many years ago with a young woman in Caen, Alavoine never came close to feeling real love until much later in life when he met Martine, a woman with whom he believed he had finally found complete love.

Limited in emotional insights, Alavoine makes broad ethical statements as he attempts to "define" his life rather than to express his feelings. He can remember the past in enormous detail but he has little insight. The author, too, seems to have absorbed some of these attitudes in the writing of this book. By presenting the killer's thinking in great detail, he tries to create a feeling for the killer on the part of the reader, believing it possible to make the reader share the killer's feelings. He is only partly successful in this. As he develops Alavoine's psyche, Simenon cannot disguise Alavoine's arrogance. Alavoine seems to believe that his expertise in one area of life, his career, makes him an expert in other areas of life, such as love and its mysteries.

Slowly and inevitably, the author sets up Alavoine and his lover, and it becomes sadly ironic to watch as Alavoine, firmly convinced that his behavior is good and right, reveals how limited he is in true understanding. As the doctor and his lover mover closer and closer to their destiny, the reader follows along, always wondering how much the "we" of the narrative really involves a sense of sharing and how much it may be the doctor imposing his will. Filled with difficult questions, the novel has few answers, leaving the reader to make the judgments about Alavoine and his crime.
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Act of Passion (New York Review Books Classics)
Act of Passion (New York Review Books Classics) by Georges Simenon (Paperback - 24 Nov 2011)
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