««« back to CC Books

Georges Simenon: Monsieur Monde Vanishes [1945]

§ Affluent Parisian businessman in his late forties walks out of his office one summer day, exchanges his expensive suit for something a little more down-market, and with 300,000 francs wrapped in a newspaper, hops a train for Marseille where he checks into a cheap hotel with a view of the Port. With no warning, he has left behind a wife (his second), a son and daughter, and a successful family business. It's an adventure to be sure, a sudden rebellion against conformity, perhaps a classic middle-age reinvention of the Self, or a self-indulgent fling that conceals a manic depressive resignation from a life that will end as suicide.

Monsieur Monde Vanishes

Yet Monsieur Norbert Monde is anything but irresponsible, even if his initial actions suggest it. First night in his dingy hotel he overhears an ugly row between a pair of young lovers in the adjacent room. The man punches and kicks the woman, who grovels at his feet, protests innocence, begs him to stay. The scene is raw and electric, like something Monde himself might've participated in with his first wife but never did. When the man leaves, Monde checks to see if the young woman is alright; thus starts the strange relationship between Monde, the bourgeois runaway, and Julie, the nightclub dancer... and runaway.

Beautifully written in that slightly dysfunctional Georges Simenon way, with a subtle modal shifting between exterior and interior narrative, present and past, that gives the action a dreamy feel, whether Monde is in bed with Julie or sitting on a bench on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where this strange couple end up. There's a sense of déjà vu within the action, as if Monde is reenacting a past he has forgotten, or is now acting out a future that his past has fated. Julie gets them both employment at a gambling club, the Monico -- she as a dance hostess and sex bait, he as a hidden book-keeper and spy on both the customers and workers (there's a similarity here to Little Frank's brothel voyeurism in Simenon's roman noir Dirty Snow). Monde is over-qualified for his job, but here, in the gray borderland where crime and respectability can be one of a kind, no one asks questions. Because Monde saved Julie's life, she repays him by enabling him to find his true self.

Both are sympathetic characters, and bond despite the disparity in age and class. Both are victims -- Julie of a childish petty thief, and Monde of two marriages and two selfish wives. Somehow they make it easy for one another to move on from the past, yet the past isn't done with Monsieur Monde or the dopplegänger he assumes, Monsieur Désiré. Strangely, when the police do come looking, it isn't for Monde/Désiré, but rather for his first wife Thérèse who is a habitué of the Monico as the companion of a wealthy bloated American known as The Empress. Tragedy strikes when The Empress ODs and Monde/Désiré has to rescue his former wife, now an impoverished drug addict without a patron. No one would expect him to, yet he bears no ill will towards her (or wife 2 back in Paris) despite the fact that she walked out on him and the kids all those years ago to satisfy her pornographic fantasies.

In a clever analogue to Julie's debasement with her lover, Thérèse ends up on the street grovelling at Monde's feet, begging him to get her another fix. Monde helps her out, and what thanks does he receive? A bite on the hand.

'They had hardly been together a quarter of an hour, a half hour at most, and she had already degraded everything to the level of her own feminine mind.'

However, Monde becomes a leader, takes care of business.

'He was a man who, for a long time, had endured the human condition without being conscious of it, as others endure an illness of which they are unaware.'

So, like a spell in the Foreign Legion, his holiday in the gutter shakes him free of his cultural and psychological somnabulism. But how does it all end? Better read this novel and find out. Great characters, settings, scenes... and some powerful humanism despite the selfishness and venality. Hard fiction with a heart, and as relevant today as it was in 1945.

© LR 2015

Monsieur Monde Vanishes at Amazon: US | Canada | UK

*Check out LR's novel RADIO BRAZIL »»