Mme Monde jumps the queue at the police station using the arrogance of status to set up an appointment with the superintendent. Her husband has gone missing, leaving her in a difficult financial position that requires that he be found.
Monsieur Monde, however, has no intention of being located. Nobody has noticed it was his 48th birthday and, unless he does something drastic, his anniversaries will remain unmarked until he reaches the grave. The stifling world of work, respectability, the disappointment in his family and his mundane routines are the sum of his protected life and he finally decides to do something he has longed for before – to leave it all behind and start again by joining the people he has observed getting on with things without pretention or expectation.
He removes a huge amount of cash from the bank, trades his tailored suit in for something off the peg, shaves off his moustache and boards the train for Marseilles.
From his hotel room, he overhears the violent breakup of a couple and, worrying for the safety of the woman involved, goes to intervene. Before long, he and Julie are joined at the hip. She’s free and easy in her skin and it’s not long before their relationship becomes physical.
They head to Nice, home of minor celebrities and those in search of a good time. An unfortunate series of events follows, though Monsieur Monde is untroubled. It’s precisely the challenges of daily life and the weightlessness of lacking purpose that he sought. He winds up working in an illegal gambling establishment where his job involves the careful observation of the clientele. All seems to be going well until the appearance of the morphine-addled Empress and her sidekick, who just happens to be Monde’s first wife. Action is required and Monde is once again reminded that it takes more than the removal of a moustache to change one’s way of being.
This is a story that really had me hooked. It’s difficult not to care for M. Monde from the off, to admire his decision and his courage. In waiting for everything to work out, each of his actions and encounters adds a new layer of tension. The stifling world of cheap hotel rooms and seedy bars offers Monde a sense of liberation as he sucks in the simple pleasures of the world. The cold ways of his wife are a polar opposite to the honest affection of Julie and his new friends. The freedom of his daily grind is a stark change from the mechanical motions of success.
All in all, it’s a terrific piece that falls slightly short as it wraps up. The ending was unexpected and, though satisfying , there may have been a more engaging conclusion. My favourite sections all came early on, those following the thought processes of Monde as he decides to take the leap and is taken up by the flow of life like a leaf in a fast-flowing river.