Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Clockmaker by Georges Simenon

I'm not a huge Jazz fan, but I do like Bill Evans' solo work.  I find it meditative and poignant.  Here he is playing Alone.

The ClockmakerThe Clockmaker by Georges Simenon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A Clockmaker, Dave Galloway, has a simple life, stuck to its routine. He works in his shop, fixing watches, goes to his apartment, which is above his shop, has dinner, once a week goes to see his friend, Musak, and plays backgammon with him or watches the game.

Dave has a son, Ben, whom he loves and cares about, almost to the point of hovering. He feels protective and yearns to be closer to him. Both he and his son were deserted by Ben's mother when Ben was a baby. Dave has done his best to be both mother and father to his son.

Dave recalls his son as he grew up. In grade school, he was bullied, in secondary school, he becomes increasingly distant to his father. Dave finds this troubling but he feels helpless to do anything.

One night he comes home to discover that Ben has run off with the girl next door. She's fifteen and Ben is sixteen. They have taken Dave's car and stolen thirty dollars from the girl's mother.

Again, Dave feels helpless. Why should he call the police? If they want to marry, let them marry.

If it were only so simple. Coming home from work the next day, Dave is met by police. His car has been deserted by the side of the road, another car has been stolen and the owner murdered and left on the side of the road.

We see the story transpiring through the eyes of Dave and he is not an interesting narrator. He is about as clueless a person as can exist. We learn why he married Ben's mother (he doesn't know) and we hear him pondering as to why his son might have become a killer. He has no idea, but most of the book is Dave trying to put the fragments of his life together to try and make sense as how he and his son arrived at this place and time.

Dave seems too numb to feel anything. But he rather seemed like that before.

When his son is finally apprehended Dave flies out to see him. With interest, but without emotion, Dave notices that his son and his now wife, are not ashamed or exhibit any remorse. If anything, Ben acts proud of his "accomplishment". He admits his guilt and sees no reason to deny it.

When Ben sees his father in the crowd, he shows contempt and refuses to talk with him. Even when they fly on the same plane back home, Ben with his wife, surrounded by police officers, Dave in another seat in the back, Ben never looks at or acknowledges his dad.

This bewilders Dave. He doesn't understand how his son could be so arrogant.

The story concludes with Dave deciding that it was about rebelling against forces that overpower a person.

His mother was domineering and pushed his father around. His father was a timid man who spent his life going from bank to bank to get loans to make a living. He dropped dead at a bank while waiting to see someone about a loan.

Once, his father had an affair. His one time rebellion against his wife, Dave's mother. In his turn, Dave married a woman he knew was immoral and would never be faithful. He knew she would eventually desert him, which she did and their baby, Ben. Neither of them ever saw her again. But to him, it was his rebellion. Now his son.

He murdered a man. That was his rebellion.

To take something so philosophically and stoically does not make sense. I get the feeling that Simenon, while nodding to the need for law enforcement, really sees nothing wrong with murder anymore than he considers adultery wrong. It's simply a route some people take.

His attitude reflects the nihilistic, existentialist culture that had risen out of the writings of Camus and Sartre. I suppose he was simply going with the popular flow.

The problem is that, while that angle makes sense in Simenon's novels that take place in France, it seems unnatural in an American setting.

The Clockmaker takes place in New York and a few midwestern states. I had to keep reminding me that the characters were American, because Simenon's writing is so entrenched in his French nationality, I had a hard time not imagining Dave standing around, lighting a cigarette and shrugging philosophically at the strange workings of fate, but, c'est la vie.

The only slice of light in the whole novel is when Dave's friend Musak rises to the occasion and rescues his friend from complete spiritual catatonia by making him supper and breakfast, making him go to sleep, waking him up and driving him to the airport to see his son.

I have to conclude the Georges Simenon wrote of something he had no personal experience with. The entire story comes across as theoretical, as though he had an idea about a father and son, what if the son turns out to be a murderer? How would the father react? It comes across as guesswork.

And Simenon guessed wrong.

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Silvia said...

Oh,not such a good Simenon then. Well, at least now I through you.

Brian Joseph said...

It does sound bleak. I find these existentialist writers interesting. However, I do not share their nihilism. I really liked Camus’s The Plague. In that one Camus seemed to conclude that there was meaning in life when one helps and sacrifices for one’s fellow people.

Great review Sharon.

mudpuddle said...

a Simenon not about Maigret! quite a find... i read a bio of Simenon once and it was pretty illuminating about his writing style and personal life... suffice it to say he was not a very nice person: a problem with egomania to say the least... it sort of ruined reading his mysteries for me, so i don't recommend it... in some cases ignorance really is bliss...

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Silvia. Yes, I love Maigret so I was rather surprised about this one. A little depressing.

Sharon Wilfong said...

HI Brian. I think both Camus and Sartre re-thought their existentialist philosophy at the end of their lives.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Mudpuddle. I have a couple of biographies on Simenon. I always like to read about the lives of favorite authors. But, for the reason you mention, I always wait until I've read all the works before reading. It can be disillusioning.

RR@15037 said...

Goodness .... waiting to read bio until finished with novels will take quite a while ..... well, most of his Maigret novels are about 200 pages .... best of luck to you .... I’ve got 30+ on my shelf waiting for me ....

Sharon Wilfong said...


I know. I love that fact that it will be years before I read all the Maigret novels. I'm so glad there are so many.