Saturday, February 06, 2010

8. Tropic Moon by Georges Simenon

I've had this, one of Simenon's first Romans durs, sitting on my shelf for over a year. Buzby (whose book reviewing has been subsumed by two new little ones), who is a huge fan, lent it to me and I finally cracked it open. Buzby's review gives an excellent and much more detailed synopsis, so hop over there if you really want to know what happens. It's about a young upper middle-class french man who goes to colonial Gabon in the interwar period in the hopes of running a logging concession. Though he doesn't tell anybody this, the real reason he goes is because he has no real financial prospects back in France and like so many of the Europeans who went out to the colonies, he had the chance to maintain the aristocratic fantasy that was no longer possible at home. However, in this case, things go really bad for him.

This is an excellent book. An amazing portrayal of the utter degradation that was colonial Africa (focused particularly on the colonialists themselves, but with enough side glances at the natives and their treatment to evoke horror in the reader) as well as a spot-on portrayal of the ignorance, inexperience and emotional maturity of the male in his twenties. The character is so out of his league, so inexperienced and so utterly unable to control his emotions, that you almost feel pity for him. Usually, with a character like this, I'm tearing my hair out with frustration. But while I was certainly not very sympathetic with him, Simenon does such a good job of making it seem very real and understandable, that it's a fascinating and compelling read and you want to see how far it is going to go. Young males in their early twenties, for the most part, are perhaps at the least competent, most inept period of their lives. It makes sense that we try to keep them sequestered in university or send them off as soldiers. Simenon wrote this when he was 30, which is an astounding testimony to his writing. I'd say it is arguable that Tropic Moon addresses the themes of colonialism as well as Conrad in Heart of Darkness, but does it in a way more efficient and perhaps devastating way. Great book.

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