Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Classics #7

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

French title: Oncle Charles s'est enferme
Year Published: 1942
Translation: Howard Curtis, 1987

Uncle Charles has Locked Himself in – Georges Simenon

Uncle Charles is a typical Simenonian hero. An unassuming bookkeeper who works for his brother, he has no intimate relationships since he rarely speaks and feels happiest at his solitary hobbies of photography and fixing small devices.  His easy-going wife and three working-girl daughters take him utterly for granted, just as the family of ingrates did to the hero in M. Vonde Vanishes.

One day on returning home, Uncle Charles locks himself in the attic and in a note tells his family to leave him in peace. He has laid in a stock of provisions so he feels he won’t be disturbed.

Surprised, but not excessively so, the rest of the family then implements Strategy One and Two of families facing a crisis: Do nothing. Hope it blows over.

Family life observes its usual course, with the lazy and lax housewife and the three daughters, concerned above all with their own lives. They too have locked themselves in, concerned only with selfish, transitory, mediocre goals in day to day life. One doesn’t blame Uncle Charles for wanting a bit of vacation from their self-centeredness. A Simenonian hero always reaches points where he’s got to escape humdrum existence and stoke what’s left of his self-control and persistence.

After several days, during which each daughter half-heartedly attempts to get him out of his seclusion, his well-off brother, owner of a cannery, comes to reason him out of his reclusiveness. In fact, Henri suspects that Charles has something on him (Henri) and needs to talk him (chuck) around in order to minimize damage to his (Henri’s) life.

In the reveal, Simenon shows us that life goes on even in a crisis and that when families are examined closely strange things are revealed. Well worth reading, with both the realism of The Glass Cage and the unflinching view of the horror of ordinary people as in The Family Lie. People are only human, Simenon seems to say, so it’s not reasonable to expect them to get out of their rut of acting on ‘What’s in it for me’ for more than two minutes at a time. People can rise to the occasion on occasion, but to expect most to be smarter, braver, wiser than they can be is just dreaming the impossible dream.

My reviews of Other Non-Maigret Novels by Simenon
The Old Man Dies

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