Week 11 – Cinnamon and the Cat

Simenon. Seriously. It’s all I can think when I read that name. Does anyone else have this problem?

Seriously though. I haven’t read any of his detective books. I remember something about a horse… Maybe… Then I gave up. This guy wrote a ton of books. It’s horrifying. I’m reasonably sure the time spent typing these things up collectively surpasses the total lifespan of Simenon himself. My theory is he wrote them with the help of magic ghosts.

So we come to The Cat, a story about a husband and wife who hate each other to the point of never speaking to each other, communicating purely in notes centred on blaming one another and casual death threats. Their most common communiqués are simple. ‘The cat’ from the husband, and ‘the parrot’ from his wife. These are references to each others’ beloved pets – the cat murdered by the wife and in consequence the parrot murdered by the husband. They live quietly, having conservations in their heads in which they viciously insult one another, ruminating on everything from who is the weakest to who will die first.

Simenon lived by the principle of ‘If you can cut out a word, do so.’ There is absolutely no waffling in this book. It is succinct. And the language doesn’t become robotic because Simenon values the creation of atmosphere. And what an atmosphere. The entire book is filled with fog. It’s a cold French street, a cold French house, and it’s always winter. I remember about one sunny scene. It was a flashback. Apart from that, I’m not sure if it’s every actually stated to be cold or foggy. But it’s always winter in my mind. Maybe I’m giving Simenon too much credit for my perceptual weather-prejudice? Or should I be giving him more credit for so effectively manipulating me towards this said assumption?

This is just the kind of pointless-crap-trap that’s constantly waiting to devour anyone studying a subject like literature. Let’s get out of here before someone gets hurt.

But I maintain it’s a cold-feeling story. It’s told through the eyes of an elderly couple. You feel old. It’s not pleasant. There’s none of that clear, endorphin-flowing happiness that we’re used to. The husband realises he needs his wife – but the motivation is mostly that he needs that psychological warring they’ve had all these years. And then she dies. This is the ‘happy ending’. And it’s not depressing… as such. You end up sitting there thinking ‘Am I happy? Am I sad? I’m not sure…’ In the end I think it’s a complicated mixture of both, and I think it’s cool that the book managed to leave you with this sense of confused zen happy-sadness. Confusion’s fun.

The Cat is a psychological novel with original characters – to say the least. Simenon tells the story of two people going through their twilight years with hate-fuelled abandon. It challenges a few of our definitions about marriage and love, and it’s always good to challenge things. It’s depressing at times, but simultaneously addictive and morbidly fascinating. And French. Now you’ve gotta read it.

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