I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.
The Grandmother (La Vieille) – Georges Simenon, 1959, tr. Jean Stewart
This psychological novel opens with Police Commissioner Charon seeking help from Sophie Emel. Paris is undergoing urban renewal (a catalyst to the plot in some of Simenon’s novels in the late Fifties and early Sixties). Sophie’s grandmother, whom she has not seen for 12 years, holds up the demolition of an old apartment building because she fiercely refuses to leave her home. Grandmother Juliette Viou swears to leap out of her fifth-floor window if the authorities try to force the door.
However, after negotiations, the grandmother agrees to move into an unused room in Sophie’s apartment. Sophia, a race car driver and aviatrix, leads a somewhat bohemian life, partying with celebs in a shabby-glamorous life filled with late nights, alcohol, and a train of romantic partners. Budding singer, dancer, and actress Lelia currently lives with Sophie in a sapphic relationship. The maid Louise rounds out the quartet of very different women, always watching and judging each other’s words and deeds. Simenon explores his pet themes: the difficulty if not impossibility of genuine communication, the inevitability of remaining strangers even between two similar personalities, and the tendency for people to employ drama to enliven the dull routine of life
This novel reminded me of Aunt Jeanne, though Juliette Viou is much less sympathetic. The plot hinges on somebody moving into a new place and the resultant power struggles. The aunt and the grandmother both have a penchant for drinking, an independent nature, and troubled histories with weak men. I think readers who like the roman durs – hard novels called by one writer “existential pulp fiction” – will enjoy this one too, though for readers who are dealing with issue of “what do to do for elderly relatives” will find it cuts close to the knuckle.