Monday, January 17, 2011

Simenon's bedrooms

So here finally is a Simenon novel I found less than enthralling. Three Bedrooms in Manhattan doesn't have any criminal elements to speak of — it's more of a romance — and I suspect this has a great deal to do with the fact that this novel on the whole just didn't work for me.

Why did he keep thinking about her? Why had he gone out? He had promised himself that one morning he'd be there in the hallway or on the stairs when she left. But every time, she managed to get up at seven sharp. She didn't need an alarm clock. She didn't bother to wake her friend. Combe never heard them talking in the morning.

Stray sounds from the bathroom, perhaps a kiss on the forehead for the man lying asleep, then she opened the door and slipped out. He imagined her searching briskly for a taxi to take her back to the station.

What did she look like in the morning? Could you make out the night's traces on her face, in her sagging shoulders, her hoarse voice?

That was the woman he wanted to see — not the one who got off the train, brimming with self-confidence, who then showed up at the studio as if she was just dropping in on some friends.

He wanted to see the woman at daybreak, when she went off alone, leaving the man asleep, selfish, stupefied, his damp forehead grazed by her lips.

He came to a corner that seemed vaguely familiar. A club was closing. The last customers were out on the sidewalk, waiting in vain for a taxi. On the corner two men who'd been drinking were finding it hard to say good-bye. They shook hands, pulled apart, then immediately turned back for a final confidence or renewed protestations of friendship.

Combe, too, looked like he'd been in a bar, not like someone who'd just gotten up.

But he hadn't been drinking. He was sober. He hadn't been out listening to jazz. He'd spent the night in the desert of his bed.

All this in considering the unseen woman who visits his neighbour. There are some lovely, moody, poignant bits (I mean, "the desert of his bed"!), and that spare, clipped language drew me forward, but I found FranÒ«ois Combe to be completely abstruse. I don't understand him at all, and I can't believe the character was designed in this way to be so deliberately opaque. And I can't imagine any woman falling in love with him.

It's said that this novel is quite autobiographical; maybe my distaste for Simenon the man is colouring my reading. Perhaps Combe is not so different from Simenon's other (anti)heroes, but without the focus (or perhaps distraction) of some criminal or seedy element, some genuine evil or real meaninglessness (none of this lovelorn bullshit), he is less easy to bear. Less culpable, but less sympathetic. I just didn't get Combe.
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