Georges Simenon: La chambre bleue – The Blue Room (1963)

The Blue RoomLa chambre bleue

While I’ve read some of Simenon’s Maigret novels, I hadn’t read any of his so-called “romans durs” until now.  Many people say they are far better than the Maigret novels and after having read The Blue Room –  La chambre bleue I think I can understand why. I can also see the influence the romans durs must have had on some newer authors like Pascal Garnier. Luckily for me, I liked Simenon’s novel much more than the Garnier novel I’ve read so far. The Blue Room is excellent.

The book starts with a scene in a hotel room – the blue room. Two people, Tony and Andrée, have just made love and he’s standing in front of a mirror, wiping away blood from his lips. The book starts in medias res, with a conversation. Andrée, who is watching Tony from the bed, is asking him, if she’s hurt him. Apparently she bit his lip. From the way she asks, we can deduce that it wasn’t as accidental as he believes. No, she probably bit him, so his wife will ask questions. What Andrée doesn’t know is that she’s not Tony’s first affair and that his wife is likely to ignore this one just like she ignored the others. Andrée then asks Tony whether he loves her and would love to spend his life with her. Tony’s not very attentive and says yes. A fatal error as the reader will find out very quickly. At the end of the scene in the hotel room, the book seamlessly switches to the examining magistrate’s chambers, where Tony is trying to defend himself in front of a psychiatrist and his lawyer.

The scene in the hotel room is a pivotal moment. From there the book moves backwards and forwards in time, unfolding Tony and Andrée’s whole story, from when they met as kids, to when they became lovers. It also switches from scenes set in the past to scenes in the present in which Tony, who has been arrested, tells his side of the story. The way Simenon has interwoven those narrative strands is pretty amazing. Nowadays, we’d have the different strands either separated by breaks between paragraphs, or chapters. Not so here, which makes it much more fluid, much more like watching a film.

Simenon’s style is hard to describe. It’s unadorned but so precise. Everything he chooses in his descriptions works masterfully. It’s like we’re looking at his characters through a microscope. The tiniest ugly little detail is laid bare.

While I don’t think his books are about suspense, it was suspenseful nonetheless because for a long time we have no clue why Tony got arrested. Nothing in the pivotal scene let’s us suspect that.

The Blue Room is a cruel, bleak analysis of a love affair that goes terribly wrong, written in evocative and pared-down prose. A great little book.

If you’d like to read a more eloquent review of the novel, here’s John Banville’s review of the Blue Room. He goes as far as comparing Simenon to Kafka.

The Blue Room has been made into a movie. I hope I can watch it soon.

 

 

This book was on the 20 under 200 list I did last summer. I must admit, I’ve been slacking. I’ve only read five or six from that list.

31 thoughts on “Georges Simenon: La chambre bleue – The Blue Room (1963)

  1. This sounds excellent – I’ve not read any of Simenon’s roman durs so I’ll definitely look to remedy this! The film looks good – Mathieu Amalric is an interesting film maker so I have high hopes🙂

    • Yes, it’s really good. I know there are others that are said to be equally good but it’s a great place to start as it’s not too long. I have high hopes for the movie too.

  2. I really want to read this, especially given your enthusiasm for it. Oddly enough, I don’t think the film was ever released over here in the UK. It played at the London Film Festival back in 2014, but I couldn’t make the screening much to my disappointment. Maybe it’s available on DVD now – I’ll have to take a look.

    • Yes, I think it’s a good place to start. And if you like this, you know there are many more roman durs out there that are said to be excellent.
      I’d love to know what you think of this.

  3. Hi Caroline. I stopped by to see what you’ve been reading, and find an enticing review and two other books to add to my TBR – The Saffron Road and The Folded Clock. I think I know why my TBR has ballooned out of control!🙂

    I checked who translated The Blue Room and am pleased to see that the new English version is by Linda Coverdale, whose work I quite like. It does sound very different to the Maigret novels, which is interesting.

    How have you been? I’ve started a new blog, which I hope will give me some impetus to read more of my own books. There’s nothing much there at the moment, except for some (optimistic) lists.🙂

    • How lovely to see you here. I thought of you yesterday and was wondering what you were doing. I’m doing OK.
      The Folded Clock triggers odd reading behaviour in me. I like it so much, that I only read tiny bits or gulp down large bots too quickly. I also started to write diary entries like that.
      I’ve only just begun The Saffron Road but I think it’s a great idea.
      I remembered, after publishing the post, that I’ve read another non-Maigret which I liked as much as this one.(Three Rooms in Manhattan). I enjoy the Maigret novels, but this is very different. Bleak, analytical and so pared-down. Still, with a cinematographic quality. I need to check out your lists, although they might be dangerous.🙂 What’s the name of the blog?

      • I’ve seen a couple of reviews describing the author of The Folded Clock as narcissistic and self-pitying, which only made me want to read the book all the more. Authors who provoke such strong reactions usually have something interesting to say, even if some people have a problem reading it.🙂

        I went through a Maigret phase and read all the books my library had. I just checked the catalogue and it only has his books in digital format now:/ Have you watched the TV series with Michael Gambon as Maigret? I noticed it in the catalogue.

        Yes, I kept the same domain, because it has a lot of meaning for me. I’m using a proper paid-for theme this time.🙂 Ophelia will probably make a comeback if I can ever figure out the header settings.

        • I’ve noticed that that’s what they say about most women who dare writing about themselves. So far I didn’t think it was narcissistic but captivating.
          I hope Ophelia will return.🙂
          It’s good you kept your domain. I would have noticed that you’re active again once I checked my Bloglovin thread. But I’m glad you visited.
          Too bad the book is not available.

    • I just answered my own question. I clicked on the link and saw you kept the name but it’s a new blog. I’m so glad you came by. I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

  4. Great review Caroline.

    The characters and plot of this one sounds fascinating.

    I have not seen the movie but the plot description seems like it would translate well to film.

  5. I loved The Blue Room too, it’s got so much to it for such a short story. I’ve never ready any of his detective novels, but I’m also not sure I want to. I’m not sure they will match my enjoyment of this book.

    • I glad to hear that. I know what you mean. I did like those I’ve read but they are very different. The psychology and the descriptions are similar but Maigret is very old school while this felt so fresh.

  6. Wonderful review, Caroline! I have read only some of his Maigret novels. This one looks wonderful. It is interesting how he moves between different story strands without breaks, like in a movie – very innovative. I will look for this book. Thanks🙂

  7. I’ve been reading the new Penguin editions of the Maigret novels (already far behind!) so I’ve not had time for his other work (which they’re also publishing) as well. This sounds great though. I recently read the first Frederic Dard from Pushkin Press and his influence there is also apparent.

    • I haven’t read Frederic Dard yet. Grave omission. I’m sure you’ll like this one. Very different from the Maigret novels but I like those too. I got a few to read on my piles.

    • They are very different. I think you’ll like this. I’d love to know what you think. He’s written so much. I think I’ve got at least six more in my piles. French paper backs are dirt cheap.

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