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The Man on the Bench in the Barn

by Georges Simenon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Non-Maigret (111)

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7410324,152 (3.44)None
'I had begun, God knows why, tearing a corner off of everyday truth, begun seeing myself in another kind of mirror, and now the whole of the old, more or less comfortable truth was falling to pieces.'Confident and successful, New York advertising executive Ray Sanders takes what he wants from life. When he goes missing in a snowstorm in Connecticut one evening, his closest friend begins to reassess his loyalties, gambling with Ray's fate and his own future.… (more)
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English (9)  French (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Starting positive: Amazing book- held me pretty spellbound. Listened to it through Audible. Story of a man - set in Simenon's own CT home i understand - who goes to a winter party with wife, best friend and his wife. Man sees his best friend intimate with the host's wife in the bathroom and feels ambivalent and then bitterly jealous at the easy intimacy of his best friend. They go home to the man's house, but there is a savage blizzard - enough that one can't see one's way - and the as the group walk to the home the best friend evidently misses his way and ultimately falls off a cliff - and dies. Man can hardly search that night, but pretends too (while musing in the barn). He decides he hates this friend for his easy life style and is jealous about his beautiful wife and mad that his own wife is not as bed-able (i think this was the word used) and that she was uptight and sort of stand in for his own judgmental mother. He is now attracted to Mona (the best friend's wife) and helps her through her grief up to and including a long affair. His wife knows, but says nothing, just judges quietly (or so we are told by the man). Finally Mona marries another man, leaving our guy bereft- not that he wanted to marry her - no, he wanted to carry on - flouting societal conventions and being the bad boy. He is troubled, he thinks he is the only one to see through shallow society and he suffers on account of it. Finally, in a fit of insomnia (yes, really) he finally shoots his wife dead because he can't stand her quiet judgmental ways anymore. All to the good! Amazing portrait / self analysis of a man bitter at not doing the things he thinks he really wanted to do- bed women and drink and so forth. However.... (now the bad) .... i was sort of surprised / disappointed that the character ultimately can be seen as essentially having a mid life crisis played out to the extreme view. Granted, we are entirely in the head of this man- no omniscient narrator here- and Simenon perhaps just expects us to see the rather immature narcissism here. I don't say that meaning to suggest that he is ridiculous or should just "get over himself" but there is really no self awareness at all... just bravado... "i, alone saw through the empty trap of society ...." well, yes... but we have ALL felt that way right? and everyone knows that, right? right. now, i haven't gone down the road that the person is perhaps going down a rabbit hole of mental illness throughout the book- his obsessive sense that he "knows" what his wife is thinking and holding back at all time... reads a bit like Poe at time. that is new for Simenon and whole portrait of a man going crazy is just not really Simenon i think. More like portrait of how we are all on a closer edge to crazy than we realize all the time.... ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
Bewitched by the Hand
Review of the Penguin Books paperback edition (October 2016) of a new translation* by Linda Coverdale of the French language original "La Main" (1968)

[2.5]
The Hand suffers in comparison to several of the previous Simenon "hard novels" that I've read recently in my 2022 deep dive into the works of the prolific Belgium novelist. In The Man from London (orig. 1934), The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (orig. 1938) and The Mahé Circle (orig. 1946), the protagonist seeks escape from a previous life which they feel has restricted them. The result is that they or others close to them often meet with fatal consequences.

In The Hand, the protagonist Donald Dodd is jealous of the life of his friend Ray Sanders, a hedonist who openly conducts extramarital affairs. During a visit by Sanders and his wife to Dodd's country home, Sanders becomes lost in a blizzard snowstorm as the two couples are forced to walk home after having to abandon their car. Dodd volunteers to go back out to look for Sanders, leaving his wife Isabel with Sanders' wife Mona in the house. The cowardly Dodd actually abandons Sanders to his fate and instead goes to sit in his barn for a few hours (both an early translation and a later adaptation fixate on the barn in their titles, see below).

While sitting in the barn, Dodd decides to embody the life of Sanders in his new persona. He fixates on the hand of Sanders' wife Mona when the remaining trio sleep in front of the fire in the house without power later that night. He later proceeds to pursue an affair with Mona in this new life, while under what he perceives as the judgmental eye of his own wife Isabel. The ending is again one with a fatal consequence.

The setting of The Hand in a farm house in Connecticut and also in New York City was inspired by the 1945-1955 period in Simenon's own life when he and his family lived in Canada and the U.S. after the end of the Second World War.

See cover image at https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1477529662...
Cover of the English language theatrical adapation of "The Hand" by David Hare in 2016. Image sourced from Goodreads

After reading the first dozen Simenon Maigret novels this year, I'm now reading a half-dozen or so of the non-Maigrets and several of the late Maigrets. Many of the non-Maigret books are being translated into English for the first time and it seems like there are quite a few yet to be done. I'm actually having trouble sourcing them and have only one more in the pipeline right now, The Snow Was Dirty (orig. 1948 / New Penguin translation 2016).

The Hand is the 6th of my readings of Georges Simenon's romans durs** (French: hard novels) which was his personal category for his non-Chief Inspector Maigret fiction. This is like the author Graham Greene, who divided his work into his "entertainments" and his actual "novels." Similar to Greene, the borders between the two areas are quite flexible as we are often still dealing with crime and the issues of morals and ethics. Simenon's romans durs are definitely in the noir category though, as compared to the sometimes lighter Maigrets where the often cantankerous Chief Inspector provides a solution and the guilty are brought to justice.

Trivia and Links
* Le main was previously translated into English at least once. The early translation appeared in 1970 as The Man on the Bench in the Barn.

** There is a limited selection of 100 books in the Goodreads' Listopia of Simenon's romans durs which you can see here. Other sources say there are at least 117 of them, such as listed at Art and Popular Culture and in the Library Thing "Non-Maigret Series" listing.

There is a French language plot summary for Le Main at the Tout Simenon (All of Simenon) website, which you can read here (spoilers obviously).

The Hand has been adapted once for film. The adaptation was for German TV in 1990 and titled "Das zweite Leben" (The Second Life) directed by Carlo Rola and starring Vadim Glowna as Anders (renamed from the novel's Donald Dodd). I could not find any internet posting of a trailer or of the full film.

The Hand has been adapted once for theatre. The adaptation was by David Hare and is titled The Red Barn: Adapted from the novel La Main (2016). It was performed at the National Theatre UK in October 2016 and you can read a promotional article about that in the Guardian here. ( )
  alanteder | Apr 1, 2022 |
Tense, taut plotting and psychodrama as doubt, dissatisfaction, and death touch the life of a previously steady lawyer in New England. The muscular male-centric Updikean sensibility renders the wives as accessories and so their role in these events, although central to the story, is all too passive. “The hand” is one of several totemic images the narrator lights upon, symbolising... something. Simply told, but unconvincing; or perhaps, if relationships back then were really so shallow, just unappealing. ( )
  eglinton | Apr 4, 2021 |
I don't know why I keep trying to read Georges Simenon. This is another one of his books I didn't enjoy and quit after a couple of chapters. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
I am a big fan of Georges Simenon, especially his "roman dur" novels. "The Hand" was so, so good. I sometimes forget how good these books are until I read another one.

This book is typical Simenon. A series of life changing events take place over a few days which change the lives of all the characters. It is tough. It is dark and brooding. It is bleak, violent and suffused with guilt and bitterness. But at the same time deeply analytical and not at all dated.

A deeply disturbing novel. Quite devastating. ( )
  cravenanne | Sep 23, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georges Simenonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Budberg, MouraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coverdale, LindaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klau, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wille, HansjürgenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'I had begun, God knows why, tearing a corner off of everyday truth, begun seeing myself in another kind of mirror, and now the whole of the old, more or less comfortable truth was falling to pieces.'Confident and successful, New York advertising executive Ray Sanders takes what he wants from life. When he goes missing in a snowstorm in Connecticut one evening, his closest friend begins to reassess his loyalties, gambling with Ray's fate and his own future.

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