Tuesday, October 17, 2017

44. The Man on the Bench in the Barn by Georges Simenon

Funny story about this one, I was wandering through various back roads in the area of PEI where we often spend our summer vacation and discovered a rental cabins place where the office had a big "Books" sign on it.  I went in and there was the typical vacation cabins office but very few books, only three ground level shelves.  I went through them nonetheless and discovered this hardback which had originally been from either the Town of Mississauga library or Clarkson-Lorne Park (or both or they are the same thing) based on stickers and stamps on the inside.  It is a first edition but in really bad shape.  The proprietor told me they used to have tons of books, shelves up and down all the walls but that they stopped selling so he had boxed them up.  I wished I had a chance to go through those, but he didn't say where he had put them.  He also did a search for this book and found somebody selling the same first edition on the internet for $21.45.  I pushed back on the state of the book but I could see he was feeling like I was trying to put one over on him, so I gave in easy and gave him $20 for it.  Way overpriced, but the value worked for me at the time.  Still, I carry a slight sense of annoyance with the guy.  You could just tell he was one of those cheap vendors who refuse to discount any stock even though it doesn't move because he thinks he can get the face value for it.

Anyhow, on to the book itself.  Simenon is an amazing writer.  I really need to try and read one of his novels in french.  If the translations of his books are good and his french is as straightforward and short-sentenced as his books in english are, I should be able to read them fairly easily.  He is removed from the situation but at the same time somehow captures the psychology of the broken men that are so often his protagonists.  Here, it is Donald Dodd, small town upper middle class Connecticut lawyer, respected but humble. He goes to a big holiday party put on by a rich guy in his area with his wife and another couple.  On the way back, they get stuck in a serious blizzard and have to walk the last mile home.  Ray, the other husband and ostensibly Donald's best friend gets separated from them and is not there when they finally make it back to the house.  Donald goes out to try and find him and instead of actually looking, goes and sits in his barn and smokes cigarettes, knowing he is basically leaving Ray to die.

His action (or inaction) is partly due to physical cowardice but it's also something deeper and that is what the rest of the novel reveals.  He starts to question his life and poke holes in his past behaviour.  I won't go into details and it's all very subtle.  The first half was really great.  The second half kept on the same subtle pacing and made it less explosively entertaining for me but still really interesting and engaging.  You kind of hate the guy but you totally understand him.  Simenon just nails that new england upper middle class self-loathing and anomie of this period.  Good stuff.


Book Glutton said...

This was turned into a play in the UK last year - I believe David Hare did it. I have a nice first edition of the book and moved it to my nightstand when I read about the play but I still haven't read it. Now maybe I'll try to squeeze it in by the end of the year. I love reading Simenon and reading about him - he's fascinating.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Oh it would make a great play. Agreed on both counts about loving reading Simenon and reading about him. He was a weirdo!