Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Next in the Neversink Library Challenge: The President. . .

I've been a little remiss on my latest ongoing reading challenge but I DO mean to tackle all of The Neversink Library even though they are coming fast and furious from Melville House. Still, I mean to persevere because I absolutely trust their editorial eye.  I've just finished my third book: Georges Simenon's The President, translated by Daphne Woodward.  You don't have to twist my arm to get me to read a new Simenon, particularly one of his romans dur, and I hope to see more pop up in Neversink.  This novel is very different in subject matter from The Train, which I reviewed here, but like all the Simenons that I have read, it carries his trademark creation of gloomy, somewhat existential atmosphere, iresistably entwined with an almost effortless suspense. I use the term effortless in conjuction with Simenon's literary skill, because the suspense never seems to be overly contrived. He just has a wonderful way of slowly building up the reader's interest in how events will unfold that sometimes even surpasses that of the characters directly involved. And somehow the endings always manage to both surprise and yet perfectly suitable and satisfying.

In this case, it's an 82 year old man, the former Premier of France, who sits in his Louis-Philippe chair by the fire, listening to the latest political news on the radio and reflecting on his life and past career. That's the plot in a nutshell.  But there is SO much more going on.  There has been a political crisis and a coalition govenment has been formed, led by one Chalamont, a former colleague who used to work under the Premier before getting embroiled in a scandal.  The Premier has evidence that would be extremely damaging.  He sits in his chair as the wind howls outside and the electricty threatens to fail and he waits for Chalamont to pay a visit. An assortment of employees - paid for by the government - hover suspiciously around him.  His health may or may not, be dangerously weakening. And why does an old contemporary from the Premier's village keep calling to reassure him that he'll be at his funeral?

Simenon's characters often fantasize about living a different life; in this novel, the life is re-examined along with the process of creating parallel interpretations with the benefit of hindsight tempered with regrets and grudges. It's a no less poignant - if occasionally futile -  exercise, both to undertake and to read about.

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