Saturday, March 31, 2012

What exists, exists

There just came a moment when I began to look around me with different eyes and I saw a city that looked strange to me, a pretty city, very neat, very luminous, very clean, a city in which everybody greeted me affably.

Why did I have that sensation of emptiness then?

I began looking at my house too and I asked myself why it was my house, what connexion there was between these rooms, this garden, this wrought-iron gate adorned with a brass plate bearing my name, and me.

I looked at Armande and I had to keep telling myself that she was my wife.


And the little girls who called me Papa . . .


What was I doing in a peaceful little town, in a charming comfortable house among people who smiled at me and cordially shook my hand?


And I was the only one to see the world in this way, the only one to be troubled in a universe that had no idea of what was happening to me.

In fact, for years and years I lived without being conscious of all this. I had scrupulously done the best I could, everthing I had been told to do. Without trying to know the reason. Without trying to understand.

A man must have a profession, and Mama had made a doctor of me. He must have children, and I had children. He must have a house, a wife, and I had all these. He must have distractions, and I drove a car, played bridge and tennis. He must have vacations, and I took my family to the seashore.


We have been so conditioned to think that what exists, exists; that the world is really as we see it, that we must do this or that and never act otherwise . . .

I shrugged my shoulders.

— from Act of Passion, by Simenon.

Just like David Byrne shrugs his shoulders through Once in a Lifetime. Yes, Georges, there is water at the bottom of the ocean.

So here's an obvious similarity between what might be my favourite pop song ever and Simenon's romans durs, with which I'm mildly obsessed: How did I get here?

I was afraid I was losing my Simenon mojo, right when I need it most. I set aside Tropic Moon, which was starting to feel like homework, and was richly rewarded with Act of Passion.

Act of Passion is told in the first person, taking the form of a letter from Charles Alavoine, a successful doctor, written from his prison cell, to the judge who presided over his trial for murder. It is not a confession or an apology; merely he wants to be understood.

The mystery is first how he should come to abandon his comfortable life, and then how when living his second comparatively idyllic life — poorer but in love, and feeling finally alive — he should be driven to murder the object of his affection.

That's all and it's not all, your Honour. It is all because nothing happened that was not perfectly commonplace. It is not all, because for the first time I was hungry for a life other than my own.

The song Once in Lifetime calms my general life-panic, gives me the feeling that everything's going to be OK (just once in a lifetime ask yourself these questions? just once in lifetime step outside of yourself? just once in a lifetime take a once-in-a-lifetime chance?). But when a Simenon character asks these questions, steps outside of himself, takes a bite out of life, things spiral out of control and go horribly, horribly wrong.

You are afraid, to be precise, of what has happened to me. You are afraid of yourself, of a certain frenzy which might take possession of you, afraid of the disgust that you feel growing in you with the slow and inexorable growth of a disease.

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