Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Burial of M. Bouvet

French title: L'Enterrement de Monsieur Bouvet
Published: 1952
Englished:  1958, Eugene MacCown

The Burial of M. Bouvet – Georges Simenon

On a quiet morning in a torrid summer, a bourgeois gentleman, M. Bouvet, dies suddenly while idly going over the paperbacks of a used bookstore on the edge of the Seine, not far from his apartment in the Quai de la Tournelle.

The old man died silently, without complaint, without struggle, looking at pictures, listening to the voices in the market, the chirping of sparrows, the honking of scattered taxis.
I can think of plenty of worse ways to go. « Une belle mort », indeed.

The police, with so few personnel due to the summer holidays, intend to complete a death certificate of an ordinary old man who lived alone, quietly, in an apartment house watched over by a loyal concierge.

However, by chance M. Bouvet was photographed, post-mortem at the scene, by a foreign student from the US, and the portrait is published by the newspapers. The wide dissemination of the portrait of M. Bouvet will attract a series of characters who bring to light the unsettled past of the old man.

A middle-aged woman comes forward, saying the dead man is her husband, Samuel Marsh, an American citizen, who deserted her twenty years before, ostensibly to leave to run a gold mine in the Congo. Marsh’s former business partner in the Congo brings forward evidence that Marsh's identity was false.

Mildly intrigued, the authorities assign Inspector Beaupère to figure out who M. Bouvet was. He digs up the fact that Gaston Lamblot, scion of the rich Roubaix family, disappeared mysteriously after a promising university career. After being involved in a fraud case, Lamblot lived with a prostitute and moved in anarchist circles before World War II.

But there are still deeper wells the Inspector must plumb. His investigation reveals sequential identities of the seemingly typical M. Bouvet. The Inspector and we readers can examine the warp and woof of various woven lives. M. Bouvet has left a whole life behind numerous times. Only after he’s dead are the strands put together again in some kind of order.

Bouvet wanted to be totally free, evading all of life’s entanglements and hassles. This theme of the man who is willing to give up everything and carve out a niche where he can live on his own terms appears in many of Simenon's novels. Ridiculous or terrible or weird mysteries wrap and hide lives in the most ordinary appearances.

In his understated style, Simenon gives descriptions of inconsequential events and the psychology of ordinary people. He evokes a Paris overwhelmed by the summer heat. He brings to life the concierge attached to the lonely old man due to her alcoholic husband; the conscientious investigator who attempts to hide his humility and intimidation when dealing with member of higher social classes.

Starts slow, but comes to a relentless finish.

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