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la chambre bleue

6 june 2022

Georges Simenon's Chambre bleue is another that I found in the Guardian's list of a thousand essential novels: under "B", as The Blue Room. It is an exquisitely constructed crime novel. An accused man reminisces, very selectively, as he is interviewed by police, prosecutors, and forensic psychologists. Yet the novel keeps putting off telling us what crime has been committed. We learn part of the accusation halfway through, and another part not till the novel is almost over.

Though the back of the 2020 paperback of La chambre bleue spoils the gimmick by giving away some of the crime scenario. I regret reading it. I suspect that La chambre bleue is one of those books best the first time through, in innocence of its plot. So I will avoid spoilers here, which means that this review may be brief.

Tony Falcone is a successful dealer in agricultural machines. He returned from Poitiers, the big city in the vicinity, to his home village, married, had a daughter (who is still very young). All has been placid till a married woman named Andrée Despierre, whom Tony has known since childhood, reveals that she has always been desperately in love with him. (Tony always assumed that Andrée, from a well-off professional family, was out of his league.) They start to meet in the "blue room" at Tony's brother's hotel, and it is at once clear that they are fabulously sexually compatible.

But Tony doesn't want to leave his wife. He knows nothing really about Andrée. Their future prospects seem to him at best a routine marriage, and he already has that. "Tu imagines ce que seraient nos journées?" Andrée asks. "On finirait par s'habituer," Tony replies (15). Do you think about what our days would be like? … We'd end up getting used to it.

Fatal Attraction was still 25 years in the future. But Phaedra was almost 300 years in the past. Hell hath no fury, it seems, like a woman. Even a woman not particularly scorned. Just woman in general; La chambre bleue isn't remotely a feminist novel, rather the reverse. Andrée is implacably evil, delighted with herself, intent on getting Tony by any means possible.

Yet if Andrée is sort of one-note, the novel isn't much about her. It is about Tony, under interrogation, constantly replaying crucial turning points from his recent past, admitting some things, lying about others. The novel is told from Tony's point of view, though not in the first person. Thus he is not an unreliable narrator; let's call him an unreliable reflector. La chambre bleue, despite some of its stock elements, is a compelling investigation of Tony's psyche.

Simenon, Georges. La chambre bleue. 1964. Pais: Presses de la Cité, 2020.