I read this book for the European Reading Challenge
French title: Le Président
Year published: 1958
Year Englished: 1961, by Daphne Woodward
The Premier - Georges Simenon
Ex-Premier Augustine, who is designated only by his first name throughout, has retired to his small estate of Les Ebergues after a political defeat so crushing that he swore never to set foot in Paris again. Although surrounded by police protection and a small but vigilant staff, he lives in both physical and psychological isolation. Of the people he grew up with, he is one of three still above ground. Since at 82 his health is out of his control and death is always hovering, he puts his individual freedom of judgement above everything. He undertakes to write his memoirs, which he hides around the library like a child who has scrawled “Sometimes I hate mama” on a memo pad and jams into the recesses of a couch.
Afraid to admit it to himself, he fears the loss of all influence in the political life of the country. He perceives, however, a glimmer of hope brought about by a potential change of coalition government that may bring his former chief of staff, Chalamont, to the summit of power. Augustine has kept a confession in Chalamont’s own hand, one so compromising that Chalamont would have to withdraw his bid and end his career in public life in ignominy. The climax of the novel is Augustine waiting for Chalamont to visit and make a desperate appeal, thus assuring Augustine, in his vanity, that he can still make a difference in the destiny of France.
The non-Maigret novels are not for nothing called "hard novels" which have profound themes and grim conclusions. The world of politics is one filled with pettiness of mind and ambition, malicious betrayals, and, above all, mediocrity. This analysis of power, its undertones, its dark side and the less than ideal kind of people power attracts, is served up with writing always restrained and perfectly chiseled.