THE RECKONING by Georges Simenon


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The late-middle-aged identity crisis of a sour, selfish man--and, this being Simenon, not Dickens, there'll be no cheery turnaround for the Scrooge of Le Havre, dock-owning tycoon Jules Maletras. Retired at 60, estranged from his daughter, irritated by unloved/unloving second wife Hermine, self-made man Maletras has gotten dankly involved in a sordid, largely, sexless affair with un-beautiful prostitute Lulu--whom he strangles one night in a fit of irrational jealousy. The body is disposed of by Lulu's slimy, eager-to-oblige ""brother"" (really her lover); Maletras is in no danger from the police. But he is now ""conscious all the time that something had happened that had changed his life."" He wanders through his days numbly, obsessed not by guilt, but by identity-confusion: with each person he meets, Maletras wonders how they'd react to a confession of murder. He seeks out the most unfortunate acquaintances, the most debasing situations. ""Was he not obscurely searching, without realising it, for someone who would owe him everything. . . ?"" And isn't this quest somehow related to his mother? (""He had loved only his mother. . . it was probably because of his mother, or her memory, that he had never loved a woman: he had never found one who resembled her."") And this self-humiliating odyssey ends with a heart attack, hints of possible change, but the ultimate realization that ""in the end the only reality he could find was the fly on his face and a few impressions of his childhood."" Aside from a strong, palpable sense of genuine loathing-of-life: one of Simenon's less successful character studies, with insufficient illumination from the past to explain Maletras' total dislocation from normal human feelings.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich