Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mount TBR #44

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Old Man Dies (La mort d’Auguste) – George Simenon, 1966

Seventy-eight-year-old Auguste, owner and operator of the renowned Les Halles restaurant “In the Auvergne” suddenly collapses one evening among the customers, brought down by a stroke. After a short time, he dies. He is survived by three sons, one of which, Antoine, the second, works with him in the restaurant.

Ferdinand, the oldest son, and Bernard, the youngest, show up, sniffing for the inheritance. They suspect Antoine of stealing money from the father, because they find no trace of treasure in the house. Visions like “a million francs” dance in their heads.  Antoine, though he lived with the old man for many years, was cowed by his father’s peasant reticence and mysteriousness about money.

Ferdinand  and Bernard act like weaklings so their partners get involved in the money hunt. The female participation causes distress, but Antoine, with the quiet help of his partner, shows strength, not liking the situation, but bearing no anger or animosity toward his brothers for acting as they do.

Bernard is a bit of a con man and is always hustling for money. Ferdinand, a haughty magistrate, made poor financial decisions – he wants money to pay down debt, get a car, and take vacations abroad. Ferdinand and Bernard have the usual dreams of financial stability, but it’s hard to feel for them, given their greed for the proceeds of business they never worked in and were always embarrassed about. At least, Ferdinand’s son sympathizes with Antoine and respects him for his fair-minded and realistic attitude.

It’s a bleak ending, as Antoine realizes that his brothers have always resented him for his success. Antoine is a guy that does his job and gets on with it, not expecting brass bands, but he’s hurt that somehow the three brothers have just drifted off into their own lives and lost any kind of connection with each other. At the funeral, he looks at them and realizes none of them feels the slightest inkling an emotional tie among them.

The story takes place in 1961, amidst plans of the French government to demolish and modernize the area of the old central market Les Halles. As a result, Antoine envisions having to close the restaurant and move to the country. He sees a flat uneventful old age, but at least he will have his partner.

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