Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Engagement

I spent part of yesterday and today with a novel.
The Engagement by Georges Simenon.
It was rather a different sort of read, for me. I guess the genre could be a sort of detective thriller… toned down on the "thriller" part.
Heavy on the detecting.
While reading it I kept reminding myself that it was first published in 1933. As John Gray says in the Afterword, it's "one of Simenon's most compelling psychological novels, and like others he wrote in this genre it contains very little psychology." I think that what he [partially] means is that characters are brought into action before we know anything about them -- before we have any anticipations as to how they should or should not act.
The story sweeps along fine, but I prefer knowing more about the inner workings and motivations of characters than I was allowed here.
The Engagement is about a reclusive nobody-type guy that just happens to live too close to a crime scene. A prostitute is found murdered nearby, and Mr. Hire seems the perfect suspect. His entire apartment building is 100% convinced of his guilt, and detectives are trailing his every movement. Not the most admirable of characters, by day Hire operates a mail-order scam, and by night he spies on his voluptuous neighbour as the window where she nightly undresses fortuitously faces his own.
Here's the kicker --> she likes it! She not only encourages his voyeurism, but befriends him to the point of revealing to him the identity of the prostitute's murderer.
Hire devises a scheme to run off with the girl. Afterward they'll reveal what they know, and live out their exiled life in love and innocence.
His plan, doomed to fail, miserably does.
I found the ending of the story to be quite crushingly poignant, and well worth the reading of a somewhat lackluster beginning.
The strength of The Engagement is in its portrayal of mob mentality. That is a bit too all-encompassing of a statement perhaps, but many times I thought of what I learned in Eric Hoffer's classic work The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.
The Engagement is a great fictional representation of the idea that a man may be entirely blameless, and yet pay the ultimate price for the assumption of guilt that is forced upon him by others.


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