13 December 2014

Review: THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon

  • originally published in 1955 as BOULE NOIR (my trans. Black Ball)
  • English translation published 1988
  • this large print edition published 1991 by Hamish Hamilton London
  • 212 pages
  • ISBN 1-85957-869-9
  • on loan from my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

This title is set in suburban Connecticut. (After World War II, for reasons related to accusations that he was sympathetic to the occupying forces and the Vichy Regime, Simenon moved to the United States and spent a few years in Connecticut.)

Walter Higgins is a supermarket manager. He is a stolid, predictable, married father of four living in a house that stretches his economic resources to the fullest. He is also enormously (and understandably) proud of the fact that he has lifted himself through diligence and hard work from a less than happy and economically depressed childhood. He plays by the rules. He goes to church and volunteers in any number of community organizations. He seeks affirmation of his status by applying for membership in the local country club. He is told his membership is a sure-thing and is devastated when he is told that he has been blackballed, denied entry by means of a secret vote of the club's membership committee. Each member of that committee was known to Higgins and he thought of each as a friend and colleague in the community.

The rejection turns Higgins's life upside down and the rest of the story takes us on the journey Higgins takes as the trauma of rejection hits him.

My Take

Walter Higgins thinks he knows what life in suburban America is all about. He works for his community, attends church every Sunday, and tries to be a good role model. But his dreams are about to be shattered. His application to join the town's prestigious country club is blackballed for the second time and it seems all the town knows. This precipitates Walter into a mid-life crisis, where he thinks everyone must be laughing at him. And then, when his mother dies, he has to go back to the New York area where he grew up, and the effect is soul-shattering.

This novel is a reminder of the years that Simenon spent living in North America (1945-55). During this time he learnt to speak English with relative ease.  see Wikipedia entry.

It is also not a murder mystery, no Maigret, but a chance for Simenon to show his understanding of what makes ordinary people tick, whatever their nationality. It is also reminded me that I should make more effort to read more Simenon novels. Several have been re-printed as e-books this year and last by Penguin.

Another one for the Vintage Mystery Bingo 2014.

My rating: 4.4

See another review.

I've also reviewed
4.4, MAIGRET & the MAN on the BOULEVARD
4.5, MAIGRET & THE HEADLESS CORPSE
4.3, PIETR THE LATVIAN
THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

I've not read enough non-Maigret Simenon. Thanks for the reminder, Kerrie.

David P. Simmons said...

When I was a teenager visiting in Lakeville, Connecticut during the 50s, a friend pointed out a white farmhouse up on a hill and explained that Simenon, the famous writer, lived there, but he kept to himself. Reading your summary makes me wonder if the town rejected him or he rejected it.

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