Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A sense of futility

Four blacks slid the coffin into the too-shallow hole. They used hoes to rake the dirt over it.

The idea that one day he might also be interred like this made Timar unbearably conscious of his life since La Rochele. This wasn't a cemetery! This wasn't a burial! He wasn't at home!

My God! How did I get here! And hours later:

At that point it wasn't just the misery of homesickness that had him in its grip: it was a sense of futility. The futility of being here! The futility of struggling against the sun that penetrated his every pore. The futility of the quinine that lifted his spirits and that he swallowed every night. The futility of living and dying, only to be buried in a fake cemetery by four half-naked blacks.

Set in and around Libreville (Gabon), the events of Simenon's Tropic Moon are presumably fairly contemporary with its 1933 publication.

I had a harder time getting into this book than I have had with any other Simenon novel. It thought it might be because it's a relatively early novel, but I checked the dates of the ones I've read, and no, that's not it.

I think it's because it's heavy on the foreignness of Africa, and I need a certain frame of mind for that sort of thing.

The story: Joseph Timar arrives in Libreville — his uncle had arranged a job for him. Within 48 hours of arriving, he's had an encounter with the hotel proprietor's wife, a black servant is murdered, and the proprietor himself dies of snail fever. There are racial tensions, the local government operates pretty loosely, and Timar finds that Adèle's been pretty, um, friendly with a lot of the white men about town.

Anyway, it's really short (133 pages), and there's a huge payoff — the final scenes are unforgettable.

No comments: