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l'horloger d'everton

11 may 2010

L'horloger d'Everton is an absorbing little novel by Simenon, set in upstate New York in the 1950s, full of psychological suspense if little explicit criminal action. The perspective is narrowly limited to the horloger himself, a man of stern self-control and unbearable self-consciousness. He's done everything irreproachably in his life – and his reward is to have everyone consider him a fool.

Dave Galloway is minding his own business one Saturday night when his teenage son fails to come home. Dave makes a decent living repairing clocks and watches. He's a single parent; his son Ben's mother abandoned both of them when Ben was an infant. Dave has just come back from his routine weekly game of backgammon with a neighbor when Ben steals his car, tears off out of town with his even younger girlfriend, and goes all Bonnie & Clyde on the Mid-Atlantic states.

Despite his evident devotion to Ben, it's clear that Dave doesn't know anything about his son. Nor did he know much about his own father, an austere Southerner with a strong personal code of honor and little capacity for survival in a brutal, opportunistic world.

As Ben enjoys fifteen minutes of fame as a desperado, Dave frets constantly about the figure he's cutting in the press, about how to answer media questions, deal with cops, treat Ben's girlfriend's parents, and basically, interact with anybody. Dave eventually comes to a rationalization that dooms the men of his family to unjust fates but links them in their peculiarity. It's obviously nonsense – Ben's callous criminality is nothing like Dave's buttoned-down personality – but Dave insists on the connection so forcefully that he ends up convincing himself.

T.S. Eliot admired L'horloger d'Everton, and it's easy to read a bit of Prufrock into Dave Galloway. I liked the novel for its use of settings. Dave's shop and apartment are in the same building, but they don't connect; to get from one to the other Dave must walk to an alley and take the back stairs. This quirk becomes a minor obsession in the novel, vividly demonstrating the alienation of Dave's life while playing only a very minor role in the plot. It's just like Simenon to get a tiny slice of observation just right in the course of a plot-driven fiction.

And there's baseball in L'horloger d'Everton. Simenon was evidently under the impression that baseball games require the umpire to blow a whistle, but apart from this forgivable misapprehension, he catches the way a ballgame could (in the small-town 50s) unite a community.

La partie de base-ball venait de finir et on voyait passer les premières voitures. La foule allait suivre, en troupeau, comme à une sortie de messe ou de cinéma. (97)

The baseball game was over, and you could see the first cars leaving. The crowd followed in a herd, like a Mass or a movie letting out.
Our secular religion, indeed.

Simenon, Georges. L'horloger d'Everton. 1954. Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1965.