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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Strangers in the House

Georges Simenon

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To purchase The Strangers in the House

Title: The Strangers in the House
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1940 (Eng. 1951)
Length: 197 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Strangers in the House - US
The Strangers in the House - UK
The Strangers in the House - Canada
Les inconnus dans la maison - Canada
The Strangers in the House - India
Les inconnus dans la maison - France
Die Unbekannten im eigenen Haus - Deutschland
  • French title: Les inconnus dans la maison
  • Translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury, with revisions by "David Watson & others"
  • With an Introduction by P.D.James
  • Les inconnus dans la maison has been filmed several times, most notably as:
    • Les inconnus dans la maison (1942), directed by Henri Decoin and starring Raimu as Loursat and Juliette Faber as Nicole
    • Stranger in the House (a.k.a. as Cop-Out) (1967), directed by Pierre Rouve and starring James Mason as 'John Sawyer' and Geraldine Chaplin as 'Angela Sawyer'
    • L'Inconnu dans la maison (1992), directed by Georges Lautner and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as Loursat

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good, quick

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 18/5/1951 John Betjeman
Philadelphia Inquirer . 24/12/2006 Frank Wilson

  • "One of the finest pieces of fiction I have read this year is George Simenon's Strangers in the House (.....) A typically dark, atmospheric and alarming work from this master existentialist." - John Banville, The Age (16/12/2006)

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 Strangers in the House begins with a phone call Hector Loursat makes to the local public prosecutor. Loursat quickly gets to the point:

     "I've just found a stranger in my house ... in bed, in one of the rooms on the third floor ... He died at the exact moment I reached him ... Will you see about it, Gérard ? ... It's really tiresome. It looks to me like a criminal affair."
       "Drunk as usual" is what the prosecutor's wife (who happens to be Loursat's cousin), listening in on the conversation, thinks, but Loursat isn't the sort to make prank calls or imagine things: it's all exactly as he said. And it is a bother, too: Loursat is part of the community, but he's also kept very much apart from it, for eighteen years now, ever since his wife up and left him -- and their then two-year-old daughter, Nicole. Pretty much all he had concerned himself with all that time since was numbing himself with a constant and steady flow of alcohol. As he soon learns, he's become oblivious to even what's going on under his own roof, and it takes a murder to shake him out of it.
       He hadn't been much of a father to Nicole -- "He simply washed his hands of Nicole" -- but then he wasn't even sure he was her real father. She still lived in the house, however, -- and, as it turned out, she was involved with a lot going on in the house Loursat was unaware of, things that, as one of the maids tells him:
no reasonable person would have believed, that is, not if this hadn't happened.
       The man who was shot turns out to have been a thug who Nicole and her friends had accidentally hit with their car. They had brought him here, and eventually someone had killed him. The prime suspect is Nicole's lover, Emile, and it is Emile who is charged with the crime and brought to trial -- and it is Loursat who takes on his defense, aided by Nicole.
       The Strangers in the House isn't a heart-warming tale of redemption, the drunkard sobering up to embrace what's left of his family again (and save the hide of the poor innocent while he's at it) -- though that is, more or less, what happens. But Simenon doesn't ever lose the very hard edge to his story-telling. These are all people with faults, and there's much here that can't be bridged. Father and daughter remain at a wary distance, for example, and even if there is a new-found connexion between them at the end the remaining distance is also made explicit.
       The focus of the story is on Loursat, who does what needs be done. It's less a journey of self-discovery -- though he does wonder a bit how he's come to lead such a life, and does find himself: "plunging back into life" -- than of simple discovery: figuring out, as lawyer and detective, what happened. In part Loursat can act sensibly and assess the situation dispassionately because of the very distance he has placed himself at. The goings-on in his house and in the neighbourhood involve many of the more important families in the area; Loursat's unpleasant nephew is also mixed up in it. Loursat doesn't pass judgment, not even when he figures out (pretty quickly) that Nicole and Emile are lovers, while for almost everyone else there are reputations and the like to consider.
       The courtroom drama isn't particularly exciting, almost as if Simenon couldn't be bothered to be more creative in coming up with a whodunit (and how the person is discovered) -- but then this is a story where life is meant to be just as banal and simple as ... well, real life is. Despite the kids' attempts at playing grander games. (In fact, the kids' games are all pretty small-time -- until they find "the real thing in their midst", Big Louie, at which point they understand they're in way over their heads.)
       Quick, at times almost sketchy, Simenon's writing nevertheless convincingly captures an atmosphere and mood, and Loursat is very well drawn (as is the almost shadowy Nicole). Loursat's alcoholism (and then sobriety) aren't entirely credible -- after almost two decades at this pace he should surely be completely pickled -- but otherwise he's a very impressive figure.
       Solid and worthwhile.

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Reviews: The Strangers in the House - the films:
  • Les inconnus dans la maison (1942): IMDb page
  • Stranger in the House (a.k.a. as Cop-Out) (1967): IMDb page
  • L'Inconnu dans la maison (1992): IMDb page
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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