Belgian novelist Georges Simenon is best known for his detective series featuring Parisian policeman Jules Maigret. But he also wrote a number of bleak psychological novels that deal with people whose lives are disrupted by seemingly random happenings or impulses. The Engagement, published in 1933 is about a middle-aged, overweight loner named Mr. Hire who finds social interaction difficult. A prostitute has recently been found murdered in a vacant lot close to Mr. Hire's apartment building and because Mr. Hire is "unusual", he becomes a suspect in the minds of his concierge and the other tenants in the building. The concierge has also noticed a bloody towel in Mr. Hire's room which further implicates him in her mind. Besides being an oddball, Mr. Hire has an unsavory hobby - that of peeping at a girl, named Alice who lives across the courtyard from his apartment. The reader is led to believe that Mr. Hire may have witnessed something while peeping that relates to the recent murder and Alice tries to seduce Mr. Hire so that he won't talk. None of the characters in this story are very likeable - the suspicious concierge, the detectives assigned to follow Mr. Hire, the girl, Alice and her boyfriend, Emile. Mr. Hire merits some sympathy because he suffered from obesity as a child and because his father was a poor Jewish tailor. But he has made some poor career choices, one landing him in prison for six months, and the police are content to blame him for the murder so they can close the case. Simenon's strength lies in his observations of human society and behavior. He wanted to know how ordinary people lived, what made up their daily routines. He was also a master of quick characterization and evocation of place. With just one or two sentences, he reveals the essential nature of a character or the ambience of the setting. A french film entitled Monsieur Hire was made in 1989 based on this novel.
Nov 9, 2010