Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By

The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By
The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By by Georges Simenon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's my first brush with Simenon, so I'm expecting this 1938 roman dur to be something a bit noir and a bit psychological: somewhere between Albert Camus and Raymond Chandler. I was close on the first call: The Book With A Title Too Long To Quote In Full does seem to foreshadow Camus' [b:The Stranger|49552|The Stranger|Albert Camus||3324344], but it quickly becomes clear that this is a satire, not a thriller. Time to reorganise those Goodreads shelves again.

When his boss tells Kees Popinga that the company, and thus Kees himself, is on the brink of ruin, the mild-mannered, responsible family man decides to shrug off all socially imposed conventions and do whatever he pleases. Step one is to abandon his family, step on a train and seduce his former boss's mistress. She has other ideas and laughs so hard that he leaves her gagged on her hotel bed and debunks to Paris. Unfortunately, he gags her too tight and she dies, leading to a manhunt through the streets of Paris.

Simeonon has great fun puncturing Popinga's confused vanity: having declared that he is free from social conventions and the opinions of others, he then sits down and writes lengthy, self-justifying screeds to the newspapers complaining about how he has been misrepresented and misunderstood. In his new, 'free' life he is even more a slave to society's opinion than he ever was before.

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