miércoles, 14 de diciembre de 2011

The Widow

The Widow [La veuve Couderc] (NYRB Classics, 2008)
by Georges Simenon [translated from the French by John Petrie]
France, 1942

Although it's not too difficult to find any number of otherwise sensible people willing to tell you that Simenon's one of the greatest crime writers ever, man, I'm not sure what the eff they're talking about w/r/t the seriously uninvolving The Widow.  At its heart a nod to the eternal appeal of both senseless crime and "the stale breath of love" (108), this bleak boy meets girl noir introduces you to an unlikely (and unlikable) couple in the form of the dull Jean, a former rich kid who has just been released from jail for murder, and the equally dull Tati, a middle-aged schemer who spends most of the mercifully brief novel annoying both Jean and the reader with her bossy, jealous, and clingy ways.  That things don't turn out happily ever after for the two charmers is maybe nobody's fault but their own, but Simenon himself is definitely to blame for the unconvincing dialogue and a brutal ending that's telegraphed so far in advance as to seem contrived.  Note: readers who enjoy Jim Thompson's lesser works and/or an unnecessary amount of attention paid to sordid characters' farmyard chores may find this book much less vachement décevant than I did!  (http://www.nyrb.com/)

Georges Simenon

Up for Grabs
If anyone's interested in trying their luck with The Widow, I'd be happy to surrender my ex-TBR copy (bought remaindered in 2009 for $5.99) to the first person who claims it in a comment.

12 comentarios:

  1. Yikes. I have heard such great things about Simenon from other bloggers that I have 5 of his books claiming a place on my TBR list and on my bookshelf. On top of that, I am collecting NYRB editions. However, I'm not going to be the first to claim this one! You've done an excellent job of making it sound dreadful. :) I'm curious about what others will say...

  2. He's a writer I'll read next year.
    I have painful memories of reading Le chien jaune in school but then I have painful memories about almost everything I've read in school.

    I'll start with L'outlaw. I had this one in mind.

    Here's a positive review of The Widow.



  3. Hmm.. And the movie? I think I saw and liked it. I think Simone Signoret is such a great actress.
    I've only heard good things of Simenon's non-Maigret and of this one as well and have it on my pile. I have to agree with Sarah, you manged to make it sound very bad.

  4. Gosh, these characters just sound irresistible! However, I like your choice of "eff" for "F" or "f$%#" or even "WTF."

  5. *Sarah: I might have laid it on thick a bit here to the extent that I thought the novel was more mediocre than dreadful overall. Sordid + uninteresting isn't a good combination for me, though! I get the feeling that other Simenons might be more appealing, but I was very disappointed in the writing in this work given how celebrated Simenon is in general. Meh.

    *Emma: Thanks for tipping me off to Guy's review; I'll have to see what I'm missing from the Simenon experience so far (I do like some film adaptations of other novels of his quite a bit). By the way, the famous travel writer who introduces my volume compares it favorably to Camus' L'Étranger and says Simenon was convinced that he himself would win a Nobel Prize one day!

    *Caroline: I haven't seen the film adaptation of La veuve Couderc, but Simone Signoret seems well-cast as the title character and it'd be interesting to compare how the movie works to how the novel mostly doesn't. One of my main complaints with the novel is that I didn't buy the reasons for the male lead's thought processes or actions and thus the "powerful," shocking ending felt really forced to me. Given how grim the book still feels, though, I'm not sure who would have wanted to read it when it first came out--not sure whether to credit Simenon for being uncompromising or whether he was just a bad judge of his wartime public's reading tastes!

    *Jill: Ha ha, I thought you'd find these characters effin' irresistible, I kid you not [insert sarcasm emoticon here]. Cheers!

  6. I ve three on shelves waiting to be read by him and sure my father has a few as well ,I like his work but he did right a lot of books and not all are great ,all the best stu

  7. Do you know, I never liked Simenon. I thought it was me. But then again, he is certainly not someone I ever taught as part of the 20th century French canon. I just found his work too...nothingy if that's a word, or indeed a concept, that makes any sense!

  8. Simenon's L'homme qui regardait passer les trains is one of the many volumes I picked up in France, so here's hoping I find it more involving than you did this one! Isabella's said such great things about him; I hold out hope for something from his backlist.

    an unnecessary amount of attention paid to sordid characters' farmyard chores

    All I could think of when reading this phrase was some kind of unholy mashup between Madame Bovary and Little House on the Prairie. Yikes.

  9. My impression of Simenon so far is much the same: he seems to be something of a hack writer, and perhaps after all his Maigret stories are the more interesting. Still, he's a godsend to people like me who are not really all that good at French.

  10. *Stu: I'm willing to go with your "not all are great" explanation for Simenon's vast output of books for the time being. However, he's on thin ice...and better not disappoint next time if he knows what's good for him!

    *Litlove: "Nothingy" fits The Widow well enough in my book, which is ironic since I'm told that Simenon was insanely jealous of the attention that Camus got and he didn't over the years. Anyway, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person who doesn't understand the love that Monsieur receives from the public at large. That's a mystery to me at this point.

    *Emily: Bonne chance to you and then to me in that order. I suspect other Simenon titles might appeal to me more (well, at least I hold out hope and optimism that that will be the case--but tempered by Litlove's and Obooki's comments here), and that would be very nice were it to come true since so many of his novels feature such fine, attractive cover art: I think this one is a dandy, for example, but too bad about the book. Arghhh...

    *Obooki: "Something of a hack writer" jibes with my first impression of Simenon, although I don't actually find that all too troubling given that I always thought the guy was supposed to be famous for being a "good" hack writer anyway! In any event, I'll probably follow your and Emily's sensible leads and read my next Simenon in French; that way, I could at least get some sorely needed language practice out of the bargain even if I run into another dud.

  11. i read my first simenon this year, an act of passion, and for such a short book, it took me the longest time to read because it just bored me and there just was little story set-up for it to work well. you find out within the first third of the book the basic story, then the two thirds left over are a justification of why the character did what the character did.

    oy. this review doesn't inspire me to keep trying his work, but i hear so much about him that i almost feel guilty for being so indifferent to him.

  12. *Selena: Ha, I understand that almost guilty indifference of yours! Never thought so many people would turn out for this anti-Simenon party of a post, but maybe at least one of us will have better luck with him next time. Then again, maybe not. Cheers!