Sunday, December 18, 2016

A kind of unimportant nebula

According to the back cover copy of my trashy-looking mass market paperback (exactly as pictured here),
The Accomplices is Simenon's powerful study in guilt and obsession — the portrait of a man destroyed by the consequences of sexual bondage.
That's a simplistic reading. Joseph Lambert is not a sexual obsessive per se. He lives an ordinary life. He wants to escape his mundane life, his boring wife, his predictable routine.
He was fed up with himself, fed up with being a man.
The novel opens with Lambert driving through the rainy countryside with his mistress, his secretary Edmonde. He doesn't have both hands on the wheel, and his attention is not on the road. By page 2, he has caused a deadly crash — a schoolbus full of children goes up in flames. The story follows Lambert's trajectory through guilt and self-destruction in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

One intuits immediately that the occupants of the car are the accomplices of the title.
Though they were not in love and had never acted as if they were, there was nevertheless an intimacy between them, an intimacy of another kind that bordered on complicity.
Their complicity is noted a few times, but Edmonde's complete silence about the incident makes one wonder whether she's aware of what happened at all. Doesn't complicity require some form of intent? Is she so cold or so oblivious that she does not recognize it as a tragedy at all?
What did Edmonde think about what had happened, about the way he had behaved? What did she think bout him? Had it been anyone else, he would have asked. But her — he dared not.


Was it because what existed between them was on a plane different from that of ordinary life, of life as one conceives it, as one lives it, as one wants it to be?

It was somewhat as if, at a given moment, for no apparent reason, they exchanged a signal and then escaped.

He was not modest in her presence either. They entered a different realm, a realm which resembled that of childhood rather than that of evil.
There are times when it seems the whole town is complicit with Lambert. Despite the occasional marital indiscretion, he is, on the whole, an upstanding businessman, and nobody suspects him of playing a role in the disaster. Nobody wants to suspect him, nobody wants their routine disrupted, their humdrum, provincial existence upended.

Except maybe Lambert himself.
He felt within him a refusal to return to ordinary life, and he plunged almost fiercely into a universe where all that mattered was the quivering of his senses.

The universe then drifted away until it was only a kind of unimportant nebula. Objects lost their weight, human beings were merely tiny or grotesque puppets, and everything to which one usually attached value became ridiculous. All that remained in a shrunken, warm, enveloping, an kindly world was the pounding of the blood in their arteries, a symphony which at first was vague and diffuse, then gradually became sharper, and finally concentrated in their sex organs.
There's a very specific thing in The Accomplices that put me in mind of a very specific thing in Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. Lambert's pursuit of "the click" — that's what Edmonde enables. It's a mental switch, a cognitive break from reality.

In Hamilton that break is tied up with mental illness, and blurred by sex and alcohol; sex acts as a trigger, evidence of all the dirt and filth the character needs to break from. In Simenon the break is pursued, and the pursuit of sex is a catalyst to achieving that break, kind of like the ultimate, transcendent orgasm, only it's not sexual per se — it's sensual, fully inhabiting one's senses. It mimics a return to childhood, a detachment from reality, an absence of responsibility.

It's taken me ages to read this slim little novel. I've made several false starts on this one over the couple years since I acquired it. My copy is very used, and very pungent with old-book smell. It's also sticky. Twice in the past week I've left home without a book, without this book. One might take this for a sign of illness. Or a sign of avoidance. I find reading Simenon takes a certain strength, a willingness to abandon oneself to the questionable morality Simenon probes at, book after book after book. But it's a very rewarding interior journey.

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