The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon

Since enjoying my first Georges Simenon book, The Man from London, last year, I’ve been looking forward to reading more. I had intended to try one of his Maigret books next, but the opportunity to read this one came up first; it’s a new Penguin Classics edition of a novel originally published in 1940, The Strangers in the House, and is translated by Howard Curtis. Unfortunately, at 224 pages in the paperback version, it’s just slightly too long to count towards Novellas in November!

The Strangers in the House is one of the many standalone novels written by Simenon that are described as romans dur, or ‘hard novels’. I’m not entirely sure what that term means, but as far as I can tell, it refers to the dark, noirish atmosphere, and the hard, bleak lives that the characters are leading. And the life of our protagonist, Hector Loursat, is certainly bleak! Once a successful lawyer, he fell into a depression when his wife left him eighteen years earlier and turned to alcohol for comfort. Since then, he has spent his time sitting alone with his books and a constant supply of red wine, living in the same house as his daughter Nicole, but barely aware of her presence.

Loursat’s miserable, solitary existence continues until, one night, he hears a gun being fired inside the house and discovers a dead body in one of the bedrooms. When Nicole and her friends become implicated in the murder investigation, Loursat is forced to acknowledge that his daughter is now a stranger to him…or is it in fact Loursat himself who is the stranger in the house?

There’s a detective fiction element to this novel, as Loursat sets out to uncover the truth behind the murder. When suspicion falls on Nicole’s lover, he agrees to defend the young man in court and finds that getting involved in the legal profession again gives him some purpose in life. However, although we see Loursat speaking to the suspects, getting to know Nicole’s circle of friends and learning all he can about the victim, this is not a conventional mystery novel and not one that the reader has much chance of being able to solve. If you’re expecting a story with clever twists and surprises you’ll be disappointed; even the court scenes which take up about half of the book lack suspense.

The book is much more successful as a psychological study of a lonely, reclusive man who is forced to confront his own behaviour and gradually engage with the people and things he has neglected for years. Watching Loursat’s reawakening as he becomes aware of the things that have been going on in his own house without his knowledge is fascinating. Whether or not he finds redemption and whether it’s too late to repair the damage to his relationship with Nicole I will leave you to discover for yourself, if you read the book. All I will say is that Simenon’s storytelling is realistic, unsentimental and ‘hard’.

Have you read this or any of Georges Simenon’s other books? Which can you recommend?

Thanks to Penguin Classics for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

10 thoughts on “The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I’ve been intending (and failing) to read the Maigret series for years now. My father was a huge fan and I enjoyed the original TV series starring Rupert Davies – presumably on repeat as I’d have been far too young to appreciate them when they first came out in the early 60’s!

    • Helen says:

      I’ve seen some of the TV series (also repeats) but wasn’t really a fan and had never considered reading the books until last year when I decided to give one of Simenon’s standalones a try.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I’ve not read any of Simenon’s non-Maigret books (and precious few of the Maigret ones, come to that) but I do like a psychological thriller, even if there aren’t many thrills! This one does appeal, especially if it’s out in a new edition.

  3. FictionFan says:

    I’ve only read The Man from London of his non-Maigret books, and decided against this one purely because I’ve got three or four of the Maigrets on my TBR already. I’ve read several of the Maigrets and they tend also to have that greyish noir view of life, though Maigret himself is happily well-adjusted! I’d recommend Cécile is Dead if you’re looking to dive into the Maigrets.

  4. April Munday says:

    I recently read Le Train, which is a non-Maigret book about a refugee fleeing the German advance in June 1940. I can’t say that I enjoyed it and I’m not really sure that Simenon is really my thing.

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