Friday, December 15, 2023

Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon

Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon

Monsieur Monde Vanishes (1945) is a novel by the prolific Belgian writer Georges Simenon. It begins on the morning of Norbert Monde’s 48th birthday. No one in his family remembers his birthday or wishes him. Likewise, his longtime employees forget it’s his birthday and treat the day as any other.

Monsieur Monde suddenly realizes he must escape his life in Paris. He leaves his second wife, two adult children, and successful career as an importer/exporter behind him, and he simply vanishes without a word of explanation. He withdraws a sum of money, has his mustache shaved off, and exchanges his perfectly tailored suit for a cheaper, ill-fitting suit in a second-hand store. He throws off his old clothes for a new identity and new life. Then he heads away on a crowded train to Marseilles with a sense that this rebellion has always been his fate.

In Marseilles, he overhears a fight in the hotel room next door, and saves a young woman named Julie from committing suicide. Julie and Monde understand one another to some extent, and Julie has no expectations of Monde, who has renamed himself Monsieur Désiré. Julie is a pragmatic, survivor. The pair travels to Nice together where no-nonsense Julie gets a job as a nightclub dancer at a gambling club. Julie manages to get Monde a job there too as a bookkeeper. Monde is also tasked with spying at a peephole, watching the staff and club members go about their nightly activities.

Monde is used to his routine in Nice when his first wife suddenly appears on the scene. Years ago, she left Monde and his children, and now she is a desperate drug addict. Monde helps her, but she doesn’t understand him. At the novel’s conclusion, Monde returns to his former life, but he’s a different man with a new outlook on life.

Monsieur Monde Vanishes is a novel about being taken for granted and about change, growth, and throwing off old habits.

Purchase and read books by Georges Simenon:

Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The October Country by Ray Bradbury

The October Country by Ray Bradbury

The October Country is a collection of dark and scary short stories by Ray Bradbury that was first published in 1955. The selection has an autumnal feel with a mix of psychological, spooky, supernatural, and horror elements.

The October Country includes the following 19 stories:

"The Dwarf"
"The Next in Line"
"The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse"
"Skeleton"
"The Jar"
"The Lake"
"The Emissary"
"Touched With Fire"
"The Small Assassin"
"The Crowd"
"Jack-in-the-Box"
"The Scythe"
"Uncle Einar"
"The Wind"
"The Man Upstairs"
"There Was an Old Woman"
"The Cistern"
"Homecoming"
"The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone"

I’ve been meaning to read the book in the fall for the past several years. This year, I carried out my plan and I started reading the book in October and continued reading it through the fall. My favorite story in the collection was “The Lake,” a poignant story about a man who returns to his hometown where he remembers an old friend named Tally who drowned as a child. I also found “Skeleton” and “The Scythe” to be particularly creepy.

Purchase and read books by Ray Bradbury:

October Country by Ray Bradbury The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Saturday, December 9, 2023

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men (2023) is a short volume of three short stories by Irish writer Claire Keegan.

The first story, "So Late in the Day," is the story of a man named Cathal who is reflecting on his failed relationship on what would have been his wedding day.

The second story, "The Long and Painful Death," is about a woman writer who is driving to Heinrich Böll’s house on Achill Island where she will begin a prestigious writing residency. The following day is the woman’s 39th birthday. Before starting work that morning, a German man, who is a stranger to her, visits wanting to tour the home. She agrees to meet him in the evening, but resents his intrusion to her day. She spends part of the day swimming, gathering berries, and baking herself a birthday cake. The man arrives, resentful and angry that she has spent the day swimming and baking instead of writing. He doesn’t think she deserves to be there. His misogyny is clear as he devours her birthday cake. The woman is inspired by the visit to write a story.

The third and final story, titled "Antarctica," is about a married woman who decides to have an affair out of boredom. While the woman intends to find freedom and fun, she instead finds something much darker.

Each of the stories explores misogyny, how women react to awful male behaviors, and the relationships between men and women. It’s an interesting trio of tales.

Purchase and read books by Claire Keegan:

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Door by Magda Szabó

The Door by Magda Szabó

The Door by Magda Szabó is a haunting and unusual novel about the connection between two women. I read the translation from Hungarian by Len Rix. The story is narrated by a writer named Magda and describes her relationship with her servant Emerence. Magda begins the story by recounting a recurring nightmare and makes a dark confession.

Set in Budapest, Hungary, Magda’s story then winds back in time to recount how she and her husband decide to hire Emerence as their servant. Magda’s writing career is finally thriving again after it was restrained by the Hungarian government and various forces for years. To have enough time for her work, she tries to hire Emerence do the housework. Emerence is unusual and strong-willed. She tells Magda that she needs time to decide whether to take the job as she doesn’t work for just anyone.

In her own time, Emerence chooses to work for Magda and her husband. Emerence gets all the housework done, but keeps her own odd schedule. She has many other obligations in their neighborhood. Magda and Emerence have a love-hate relationship characterized by misunderstanding, cruelty, duty, and affection. It is a troubling portrayal of two unlikable and complex women over the course of 20 years.

Emerence doesn’t show Magda a whit of respect for her writing; instead, she values working with her hands. Magda resents Emerence at times, but is fascinated by her. She slowly pieces together Emerence’s life story, but she is never able to obtain a full picture of her. Magda sometimes longs for Emerence to be a mother figure to her, but she fails to be a dutiful daughter when called to do so.

The story ends in tragedy, and the ending is ambiguous and haunting. The writer is unnamed until late in the novel when she is referred to as Magdushka a single time. I was left wondering if the novel was autobiographical or not.

Purchase and read books by Magda Szabo:

The Door by Magda Szabó The Fawn by Magda Szabó