Thursday, February 6, 2014

Act of Passion

Act of Passion – Georges Simenon, tr. Louise Varese 9781590173855

During and after WWII, Georges Simenon, creator of homicide detective Maigret, wrote stand-alone novels s such as The Engagement, Red Lights, Tropic Moon, The Man Who Watched Trains, not to mention the profoundly unsettling analogy for the German occupation of France, Dirty Snow. 

The stories are often the same: a man is so alienated from himself and society that he feels like a robot, just going through the motions of daily life. Some event brings internal and external pressures to the bursting point. In Act of Passion, Dr. Charles Alavoine, haunted by urges for sex and a sense of futility, meets Martine, filled with self-loathing due to sexual abuse in childhood. Something has to  give.

This novel is told in the first-person, in the form of a letter to the examining magistrate from the perp. The perp does not ask for forgiveness, but seeks the understanding of another man who is able to understand the feelings as the motive of his act. I can think of only one other novel where Simenon uses the first-person, In Case of Emergency, in which a lawyer explains his existential rage and defiance of conventions, especially as enforced by fussy mothers and wives that take exception to affairs with a female wild-child (played by Bridget Bardot in the movie).

Act of Passion is well-worth reading. A bit longer than his novels usually are, he presents three clearly delineated characters (husband, wife and lover), suggesting the roots of their strengths and weaknesses. 

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