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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Widow

Georges Simenon

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To purchase The Widow

Title: The Widow
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1942 (Eng. 1954)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Widow - US
The Widow - UK
The Widow - Canada
La veuve Couderc - Canada
The Widow - India
La veuve Couderc - France
Die Witwe Couderc - Deutschland
La vedova Couderc - Italia
La viuda Couderc - España
  • French title: La veuve Couderc
  • Translated by John Petrie
  • Originally published in English as Ticket of Leave
  • Introduction by Paul Theroux
  • La veuve Couderc was made into a film in 1971, directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre and starring Alain Delon and Simone Signoret

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, if perhaps a bit too inevitable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/2/1955 Anthony Boucher
Sunday Times . 11/7/1954 J.W.Lambert

  From the Reviews:
  • "(M)ore like a great many other Simenon novels, with familiar virtues (a fully realized background of small-farm life near Vichy; a memorably lusty title character) and familiar weaknesses (somewhat desultory narration; irony and violence dictated by the author rather than the characters); and John Petrie's translation is no more than adequate." - Anthony Boucher, The New York Times Book Review

  • "All the same, one can feel behind them the writer, carefully noting the details, the business of recreation, of rounding out character, has not been completed, although the proportions of the piece are perfectly judged." - J.W.Lambert, Sunday Times

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:

       Jean isn't literally at a crossroads at the opening of The Widow; the twenty-eight-year-old is simply walking along a stretch of road -- but without a clear destination in mind. He half-heartedly tries to hitch a ride, then spends his last few francs for the bus when that opportunity presents itself. More opportunity presents itself in the form of the widow Couderc -- Tati --, eyeing him and sizing him up on the packed bus. Soon after she disembarks he gets off too, and follows her -- and it's more or less quickly agreed that he'll settle in as a hand at her house.
       Tati knows what she wants, and knows how to cling to it. She married into the household -- the son knocked her up -- and she lives there with old man Couderc. He's deaf and dumb -- and maybe pretends to understand less than he actually does -- and still manages to help around the farm; as for his daughter-in-law:

From time to time she takes him to bed with her, like giving sweets to a child to keep it quiet. It's the only way of retaining the house ....
       Nearby lives one of the detested sisters who wants to get rid of Tati, Françoise -- though Tati isn't afraid of her ("She's too stupid"). The other sister, Amélie, is more competent (but also lives farther away), and once Jean is installed in the house they gang up on her more seriously, trying to get Tati out of the family house. But the only one Tati really worries about is Françoise's daughter, the teenage Félicie, usually seen with her baby on her hips.
       Tati likes to be in control, and she controls Jean too -- including using him for her pleasure. He's fine with that, for the time being. But eventually Tati becomes dependent on him -- and that's when Jean succumbs completely to the allure of young Félicie. Tati's obsession and jealousy don't help:
     He thought of Félicie all day long and it was partly Tati's fault, for he could feel that she too was thinking of her the whole time.
       Clinging desperately to him, Jean nevertheless can't keep away from the young girl; it's no surprise the combustible situation goes up in flames.
       Jean, of course, has a history. Quite a history. The previous five years he'd spent in prison -- and it's not much of surprise to learn that it was for killing a man. More of a surprise is that he was lucky to escape with his life -- he should have been guillotined for his crime. And then there's also the fact that even though when he came to the widow he was down to his last centimes, he's not just plain Jean, but rather Jean Passerat-Monnoyeur, the son of a wealthy, well-known local distiller. The situation she finds Jean in is so unlikely that Tati long refuses to believe he is actually the son of that Passerat-Monnoyeur.
       Families are a mess in The Widow, across the board. The Coudercs loathe one another, constantly keeping an eye on each other's comings and goings and every last little action. Meanwhile, Jean probably has a claim at least on his (long dead) mother's money -- as he is reminded by his sister, who comes to visit him -- but both children are estranged from the father, who sounds like a real philandering piece of work too.
       Near the end, Jean notices: "that houses, in the country, always have their doors open". It's not a welcoming sign however -- all it does is expose all the dirty laundry, creating a world of suspicion where there is no privacy. Jean ostensibly doesn't mind light being shone on his past -- but what he gets himself into here does turn out to be too much for him.
       Jean does feel some guilt at having gotten off so easy, for what he had done five years earlier. For much of the book, he can't get one thought out of his mind:
     Why did Article 12 come back to him like the refrain of a song ?
     "Every person condemned to death shall be decapitated."
       He escaped being condemned to death -- and thus the guillotine -- but he can't get what would and should have been his just sentence out of his mind .....
       Simenon tries a bit too hard in The Widow. There are no healthy relationships here -- to the extent that the final horror comes practically as a relief. Its inevitability also weakens the effectiveness of the story some, as it's all too clear where this is going. Not as lean and taut as some of his other durs novels, The Widow packs a bit too much in (including Tati's chicken-hatching ambitions, which Simenon can't quite see through).
       That said, it's still a solid, stark story -- very good even. But Simenon can do -- and has done -- even better.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 May 2016

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The Widow: Reviews: La veuve Couderc: 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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