Saturday, May 22, 2010

Spotlight Series: NYRB

My post today is for the Spotlight Series  which aims at featuring small publishers, their authors and their books, and the spotlight from May 16-22 is on New York Review Books.  For more information on the tours or the publisher click on the links or the button on the right sidebar.

NYRB has a large catalogue featuring both adult and children's books, fiction and non-fiction with a distinctive cover design which makes them easily recognisable. Not so accessible in this part of the world so once again not a lot to choose from but I'm finding this works in my favour as I end up with a book I wouldn't otherwise read and really enjoying it. The book I chose is from the Classics collection,

The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon..........translated from the French by Geoffrey Sainsbury and with an introduction by P.D.James.

Georges Simenon (1903 - 1989) was an amazingly prolific writer producing nearly 200 books published under his own name and becoming the best selling author in the world at that time. Best known for his detective stories featuring Inspector Maigret he also wrote psychological novels, roman durs  — "books in which he displays a sympathetic awareness of the emotional and spiritual pain underlying the routines of daily life." -- The Strangers in the House is one of the latter.

It is the story of Hector Loursat, a lawyer in the town of Moulins, who has lived as a drunken recluse since his wife left him eighteen years ago. He exists in a state of total disinterest in anything, including himself, estranged from society and even his own daughter.

"Alone in time, alone in space, alone with a fat, ill-kept body, a scraggy beard, and great big liverish eyes, alone with his own thoughts that had long ago lost any zest or freshness, alone with his bottle of burgundy!.............and his cigarettes.

But when a dead man is found in his house one night, the resulting police investigation unearths secrets that shake the town to the core. Discovering that his daughter and her friends have been leading a dangerous and secret life that now sees them involved in a murder, Loursat is no longer able to ignore the outside world and when one of the young people is charged with murder he slowly begins to emerge from his isolation to take on the defence case.


It is a crime story but the central theme is a brilliant portrait of a man who has for so many years suffered from severe depression. On the surface Hector Loursat is not an attractive character but as the reader becomes the confidant of his thoughts one begins to understand why he is in this position. It is hard not to feel pity for both him and Nicole, his daughter, while at the same time give him a mighty shakeup.

Only 200 pages long Georges Simenon's writing is sparse yet in very few words he creates a vivid image of the people and places he describes. He uses the simplest and most ordinary of phrases , like.....
" He went on with his soup. Halfway through he began to notice the noise he made. No one ever made as much noise as that, except peasants or badly brought up children."
So simple but this is a pivotal moment in the story.............the moment when Loursat first has a glimmer of awareness of what he's become.

A wonderful balance of dark and light - bleak and depressing at times but always the thread of hope shining through.
I've never read anything of Simenon's before and I wasn't sure if it would appeal but I'm glad I chose this book to review. I thought it was very, very good and would definitely read more from this author.


  1. Not for me, or I should not say that, cos there is something about it

  2. Sounds really good to me.

    Thanks for participating!

  3. Sounds fascinating! I've heard great things about these NYRB non-Maigret Simenon titles, but they're pretty hard to track down in Canada.

  4. I like the sound of this one! It's nice to get a bit of a review of NYRB titles beforehand, because, though I love the imprint on a whole, the stories are often hit or miss with me.

    Great review!

  5. I have to say, that author photo is great! He looks like someone who has a wicked sense of humor. I've been enjoying all these NYRB posts ... I'm learning about so many books I never heard of before.

  6. Thanks so much for participating in the tour! This sounds like a fascinating book. I like how you mention it is bleak but with a ray of hope. If I might suggest another NYRB title I think you'd like that gave me the same reaction, I highly recommend Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe at Home. Excellent!

  7. Now that I think about it... I'm pretty sure I already recommended that book to you ;-)

  8. Aarti - I remember reading your review about Wish Her Safe at Home and adding it to my list but haven't been able to find it here yet.

    Jenners - definitely some great titles and I've added a few to my TBR.

    Thanks for commenting, everyone!