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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Blue Room

Georges Simenon

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To purchase The Blue Room

Title: The Blue Room
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 156 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Blue Room - US
The Blue Room - UK
The Blue Room - Canada
La chambre bleue - Canada
The Blue Room - India
La chambre bleue - France
Das blaue Zimmer - Deutschland
La camera azzurra - Italia
El cuarto azul - España
  • French title: La chambre bleue
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale
  • Previously translated by Eileen Ellenbogen (1965)
  • Made into a film in 2014, directed by Mathieu Amalric

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Our Assessment:

A- : nicely drawn-out and built up

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Irish Times A+ 21/3/2015 John Banville
Sunday Times* B- 7/3/1965 Michael Ratcliffe
Die Zeit . 7/6/2001 Franz Schuh

(*: review of an earlier translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Blue Room is a wondrous achievement, brief, inexorable, pared to, and agonisingly close to, the bone, and utterly compelling; in short, a true and luminous work of art." - John Banville, Irish Times

  • "The account of a desperate adultery (proven) and double murder (?) in a small town near Poitiers, it is, at worst, heavily-breathing, tiresomely worldly and soap-operatic (.....) The intensity becomes uncontrolled, the result is fascinating, but slight" - Michael Ratcliffe, Sunday Times

  • "Das blaue Zimmer ist ein Buch über Wörter; sie heißen plötzlich etwas ganz anderes, wenn man darüber nachdenken muss, welchen Sinn sie eigentlich gehabt haben. (...) Die Geschichte, nahe am Kitsch, den der Autor genial vermeidet, kreist um Dauer und Augenblick, um Unmittelbarkeit und Reflexion " - Franz Schuh, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Blue Room begins with the last rendezvous lovers Andrée and Tony have in the blue room at his brother's hotel where, for eleven months, they've been having an affair. She bit him -- playfully ? possessively ? in warning ? -- on the lip -- enough to draw blood -- but in his post-coital haze he's not really registering everything -- even as Simenon fills this small scene with an abundance of sensations and mix of memories (the sound of a lorry on the cobblestones of the street; Tony's memory of his mother spreading out the laundry on the grass when he is five or six, etc.). So also with her words:

     'Could you spend your whole life with me ?'
     He had hardly noticed her words; they were like the images and odours all around him. How could he have guessed that this scene was something he would relive ten times, twenty times and more -- and every time in a different frame of mind, form a different angle ?
       And here, three pages into the novel, the story shifts: it's made clear that the August day in the blue room is something from the past -- a pivotal event, but one that happened many months earlier -- with Tony repeatedly asked about it in, it is immediately clear, a variety of official interrogations. The first name mentioned is that of: "the psychiatrist appointed by the examining magistrate", but there are a number of people in various official capacities that, over the course of the novel, have questions for Tony. Obviously, something bad happened -- but just what, and just what Tony's role was, and the resulting circumstances -- what crime is he being accused of ? -- are only very slowly revealed.
       The conversations lead back to the past -- slowly filling in details of the affair, the actors and their families (both Andrée and Tony are married), that last rendezvous, the subsequent events -- and even if it isn't hard to guess exactly where this all leads, Simenon draws out the suspense exceptionally well.
       It's a clever way of looking at a crime and questions of guilt: Simenon portrays the guilty character before revealing his crime -- observing, for example that:
     People tended instead to be amazed and even shocked how calm he was, and someone in the courtroom -- the assistant public prosecutor or the counsel for the plaintiff -- would later describe his composure as cynical, even aggressive.
       Not knowing what his crime might have been -- beyond the adultery -- readers are in no position to judge Tony's (re)actions, and are led to continuously reëvaluate them as more of what happened is revealed.
       Tony breaks off the affair when, on that August day in the blue room, he suspects that Andrée's sickly husband, Nicolas, might be onto them. It's a small town, and they've been very careful, but the possibility that Nicolas has discovered their affair is enough to lead him to keep his distance. With a sweet, devoted -- and apparently unsuspecting (or very forgiving) -- wife, Gisèle, and a young daughter, Tony has domestic bliss available to him; one of the questions is, of course, why he was willing to risk it.
       Simenon builds up the backstory, from Tony's own family-history to his schooldays with Andrée and Nicolas, and then the somewhat surprising union of two of the prominent town-families when Andrée and Nicolas got married. And then there are the events after Tony broke off the affair -- leading to a series of short, anonymous letters. Tony tries to remain passive -- to ignore what is happening -- but that only draws him in deeper. With, unsurprisingly, fatal results.
       The Blue Room is a beautifully structured novel, Simenon expertly teasing readers along. Beyond that, the novel works so well because of the characters and the tensions between them, even the secondary ones: Nicolas is barely a presence, and yet an ominous one; Gisèle is so entirely understanding. In turning again and again to the past, and slowly filling in the details, Simenon builds a powerful crime- and passion-story.
       It's a very fine and even moving work -- a simple crime- and love-story, as well as anything but.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 February 2016

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The Blue Room: Reviews: The Blue Room - the film: Georges Simenon: Other books by Georges Simenon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote hundreds of books, and is especially famous for his detective-fiction.

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