If not a popular novel, at least the artist paints a striking portrait
SIMENON SIMENON. LA DESCRIPTION D’UN FOU
Si ce n’est pas un roman très connu, du moins l’artiste peint un portrait saisissant
SIMENON SIMENON. LA DECRIZIONE DI UN FOLLE
Anche se non si tratta di un romanzo molto conosciuto. il romanziere traccia un ritratto toccante
Editions of L’évadé, an early (1936) roman dur, are readily available, including an ultramodern e-book, but copies of its English and Italian translations are few and far between. The question of why they are not worthy of more interest stimulated reading the original work and providing the ‘spoiler’ summary below. The Disintegration of JPG, the title chosen for the English translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury, forewarns of the novel’s content, a Simenonian portrayal of a man’s rapid decline into insanity.
Georges Vaillant grew up an orphan, but an educated one speaking four languages, who headed to Paris and became a hustler. Hooked up with Mado, a prostitute and his lover, they led a low life but happy existence together until her supporting john decided to leave town. Georges bungled a harebrained scheme to get blackmail money by shooting and killing his mark, her john. Caught and convicted quickly, he was caged in a Venezuelan penal colony, where he suffered for a few years until Mado sent him money to engineer an escape. Once back in France, Mado bought him a false identity—John-Paul Guillaume, hence JPG—but then swiftly rejected him. “How you have changed!” So, he robbed her and fled. Recreated in a coastal city as a high school teacher of German, he led a sedate and regimented life with a wife and two children for 18 years. “His private life was in harmony with his public life. No one ever had to reproach him for the slightest peccadillo.”
Out of the blue, when now married Mado moves into town to live and work, JPG’s artificial world begins to disintegrate “as if a wax figure had started to melt.” Although she does not recognize him, he figures the jig is up. That first day, terrified and distracted, the usually controlled teacher abuses a student, forcing a disciplinary leave. Right away for the anxious man, excessive drinking becomes “already a habit.” He returns to teach, wearing a grotesque necktie from his past, and smokes in the classroom although “he had not smoked for over 18 years.” Back on leave again, he withdraws from his family, behaving “like an automaton” as he reminisces about (and misses) his exciting life with Mado. He recalls the horrible years of “hunger” and “thirst” and “cold’ and “beatings” in captivity. He recognizes his second life as dull and emotionless but at least comfortable, agonizing that it will soon be destroyed. “It was all over.” Faced with inevitable exposure, a now “manic” JPG steals his wife’s dowry to make amends and regain Mado. He still covets her and her “kindnesses” because she had treated him “like a child.” However, she promptly rejects his clumsy buy-back attempt. Progressively disturbed, JPG misbehaves increasingly. The police investigate. “Were they thinking he was nuts?” All parties discover he is an imposter. “Gripped by an intense panic,” fearing a return to prison, the paranoid and irrational JPG robs his two children of their savings and flees to Paris fixated on buying a new false identity. As this fails, the madman’s response is to strip naked in a crowded dancehall. This triggers instantaneous commitment to an insane asylum for a life in which he will, at least, not be hungry, thirsty, cold, and beaten ever again. Crazed JPG has achieved “a magnificent solution” in just seven days!
David P Simmons
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