France · review · Translated

Act of Passion by Georges Simenon

act of passionAct of Passion by Georges Simenon, translated by Louise Varèse

Originally published 1947 as Lettre á Mon Juge

This edition: New York Review Press Classics, 2011

 

Act of Passion is the most disturbing book I’ve read this year. It’s one of Simenon’s non-Maigret novels, ones he called romans durs. It’s also rare in Simenon’s novels because it’s a first person story.  Dr. Charles Alavoine after being found guilty of manslaughter (the act of passion in the title), writes a letter to the examining magistrate explaining how actually he planned the murder. The letter is his plea to be understood, and it’s pretty obvious that someone who wants to declare how he planned murder is not the most easy character to read.

It’s a book about a criminal’s mind, and the story gets worse as it goes along as we approach the recap of the murder. Alavoine’s view of women is quite horrid, and his crime is quite horrible as well. I couldn’t stop reading in part because this book is such a contrast to the Maigret series and because I mistakenly thought the narrator would have a flash of insight.

A few things in the novel place it in 1947 for me:  (1) the focus on psychoanalysis; (2) Alavoine’s journey from the provinces to a larger city strikes me as particularly of the period; and (3) the mention of tubercular husbands..

It’s not a pleasant book. Alavoine is  not a sympathetic main character. And it’s a book where the main character’s rationalizations do not make sense to me either. I don’t feel like a psychoanalyst, but I do feel like a gawker by reading this very unsettling book.

Finally, a couple suggestions for further reading: first an interesting conversation in the comments about recommended Simenon novels see Asylum, and this lengthy piece in Open Letters Monthly discusses the romans durs along with a spoiler-laden discussion of this particular novel.

I borrowed the book from the library.

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7 thoughts on “Act of Passion by Georges Simenon

  1. Thoughtful and well-written review, Rebecca! Interesting isn’t it how Simenon’s roman durs are quite different to his Maigret stories in a lot of ways. And yes, some of them are disturbing…

    1. The Open Letters piece made it sound like he wrote this particular book as therapy, which is even more disturbing. Time for something a little less harrowing. Have a good Thanksgiving, Margot!

  2. I’ve read a few of Simenon’s non-Maigrets and I was slightly surprised at how dark they were. Although Maigret encounters some pretty nasty types, it’s hard to take to any of the characters in these books which in some ways makes them a difficult read, despite Simenon’s skill as a writer.

  3. Simenon, by all accounts, wasn’t a nice man. You don’t get that impression fromthe Maigret novels but perhaps these standalones are more indicative of the writer. Thanks for the review, Rebecca. It sounds quite a disturbing book.

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