Friday, 27 July 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE HAND by GEORGE SIMENON



Now, here's a rare thing. A Georges Simenon book that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. 

The Hand (US) tells the tale of a successful, but rather dull attorney in Connecticut, Donald Dodds. While attending a swish party, he walks into a bathroom and finds best friend, Ray Sanders, having sex with the host's wife. Donald turns to drink and there's an uncomfortable journey home as Donald, Ray and their wives battle against a huge snow storm.

Eventually, the snow gets the better of them. They leave the car and return to the Dodds' house. Upon arrival, they realise Ray has disappeared. Donald does the noble thing and says he's going to go out and search, but instead of doing so, he sits in his barn and smokes a lot of cigarettes. 

Donald is now left with his own wife and Mona Sanders and as time goes on, he becomes increasingly distracted by Mona's free and easy way of being. He begins to obsess about her and it's only his staid attitude to life that prevents him from taking action. 

As things progress, Donald unravels fairly quickly. The guilt he feels for not helping out his friend consumes him, as does his desire for Mona. His life spins on a sixpence and he no longer feels rooted to the person he has always been or connected to the wife who has been so loyal and helpful to him over the years. 

The ingredients of a great story are all here - guilt, cover-ups, sexual tension, mid-life crisis, a claustrophobic setting and a police presence - yet it didn't work for me. 

I was aware that we weren't going to get on from the beginning. 

The novel is told in the first person, which should work, only Donald's voice isn't a smooth one. Far too many times, he alludes to what has gone wrong without getting to the point. He begins sentences on a regular basis and finishes with the dreaded ellipsis (not something I like to be overused) and I assume this is to build some level of tension in the piece. Instead, it made me frustrated and became irritating. Before long, Donald had become difficult company. 

The essential premise of Donald's guilt caused by him leaving his friend to an assumed death simply didn't work for me. He chastises himself for killing Ray, yet he has done nothing of the sort. The fact that he wanted his friend to be dead isn't a strong enough driver for a life to fall apart, at least from my perspective. 

In terms of any relationship to a book like Crime and Punishment, the novels are far apart. Instead of getting to see a human being slowly eating away at themselves, we're far too aware of Donald's feelings from the beginning. He tells us from the off that things have changed beyond recognition. Having him colour in the pictures of his journey when he's already shown us the outline takes a good deal of the intrigue and involvement away.  

The sexual tensions are all easy to understand, yet they rarely raise beyond a simmer and don't really feel strong enough to tighten the noose around Donald's old life. 

A genuinely interesting element of police involvement is far too quickly snuffed out, in my opinion. I'm sure this was deliberate, but the strand of tension was thrown away without a revisit and the story lost a little because of this. 

In terms of the climax, it's all been written in the stars from an early stage. There's no surprise in the conclusion, nor in the manner of it's happening. Because I didn't really care much for Donald, it didn't carry much weight and I closed the book without feeling I'd ever been emotionally engaged.


On the positive side, I did find myself enjoying the devil-may-care attitude of the protagonist as he kicked against society and his own rigid sensibilities. 

I also wondered about that opening and the sex in the bathroom. The moment feels autobiographical for some reason, as if Simenon's working something through. That element of the book raised my curiosity, but not enough to save the day. 

It's not a terrible book, but I don't think it's a great one either. It's worth a read and if you enjoy psychological reads that speak of the hollowness of existence, there's something in it for you. 

And if I've missed the point, am way off the mark, let me know. What is it that I'm missing, here? Would the historical context make it a ground-breaker in some way? I'd really like to find a new perspective. 


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