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by Georges SIMENON

In this Georges Simenon classic, a Dutch clerk flees to Paris with his crooked boss’s money and meets the woman behind the man. “A certain furtive, almost shameful emotion . . . disturbed him whenever he saw a train go by, a night train especially, its blinds drawn down on the mystery of its passengers.” Kees Popinga is a respectable Dutch citizen and family man—until the day he discovers his boss has bankrupted the shipping firm he works for, and something snaps. Kees used to watch the trains go by on their way to exciting destinations. Now, on some dark impulse, he boards one at random, and begins a new life of recklessness and violence. This chilling portrayal of a man who breaks from society and goes on the run asks who we are, and what we are capable of.
Download The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By epub
ISBN: 0141025875
ISBN13: 978-0141025872
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Classics
Author: Georges SIMENON
Language: English
Publisher: Penguin Books; paperback / softback edition (2006)
Pages: 224 pages
ePUB size: 1681 kb
FB2 size: 1607 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 760
Other Formats: lit txt lrf doc

Kees Popinga lives a solid bourgeois life. He has a pleasant wife and two good kids, a good job, an above-average house, and many desirable possessions. Then, the shocked Kees, on a conscientious mission for his employer, spots his boss drinking alone in a seedy bar. There, the boss admits he is an embezzler and philanderer and about to fake his suicide, which will give him a second chance in life. While it doesn't exactly make sense, the passive Kees actually helps with the sham suicide, even though the boss's shenanigans have bankrupted the company where Kees has invested all his savings. But then Kees goes home and becomes filled with rage at the bourgeois life that his boss represented. He decides he has lived the life of a fool. And he decides that, from now on, he will take whatever he desires. He will no longer watch the trains go by.

Once Simenon establishes this premise, this novel becomes an interesting character study, with the foxy and megalomaniacal Kees locked in a game of wits with the police, who seek him for a single blundering act, which first expressed his newfound rapaciousness and rage.

In my edition of THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS GO BY, Luc Sante provides an interesting introduction, which is filled with both insight and spoilers. Read it after you've finished. Then, you'll find the amazing insight that this Simenon novel is actually a comedy, with the bourgeois Kees never getting too far from his comfy roots.

Even though Simenon ‘s reputation is nothing like as elevated as Camus’ s, I think this novel is better than L’ Etranger. It brilliantly captures the dilemma of the individual in society, the relativity of truth, and the necessity of making the meaning one’s life the actions one generates from the core, but also the anguish inherent in the experience of all these things.
Kees Popinga is manager of the largest ship outfitter in Dutch Frisia. His house and furnishings are of the highest quality. His wife and two children are just what they should be.

Then one evening he sees his boss, Julius de Coster, getting drunk in a bar. De Coster informs him that the company will be bankrupt the next day, and Popinga and family will be on the street.

De Coster confesses to being a fraud and a libertine. He intends to fake his own suicide and disappear, and he gives Popinga 500 florins to flee as well.

Popinga had always dreamed of being someone other than other than Kees Popinga. He takes the train to Paris. The conventional person he once was is gone with his position. He's now quite free to do whatever he pleases - and he accidentally commits a murder.

Life on the run becomes a kind of chess game, and there's something rather appealing about the smug enthusiasm Popinga brings to his new occupation. Simenon, master of the quick character sketch, peoples the madman's world with a fascinating mix of small-time crooks, prostitutes and bourgeois types.

You'll want to share this book with a friend, because it invites discussion. Is Popinga mad - or are the rest of us mad who imagine that we have solid ground beneath our feet? Was the liberated Popinga really free, or did he just assume a new character role with new rules? Are any of us ever free from our self-inventions?
Most interesting novel of the oveure of Roman Durs by Simenon.
Good story but doesn't feature Insp. Maigret at all.
A complex tale of a man who leads a normal life until one day everything changes. This story is interesting in the way it shows us how by circumstance many of us can take a path which can ultimately lead to destruction!
Simenon in a slow but progressive manner has the ability to draw the reader into the life of the protaganist no matter how heinous the situation. This is well manifest in this typical Simenon psychological thriller. If you like this type of ouevre The Man Who Watched Trains will fit the bill.
I came to Simenon by way of his Maigret novels and count myself as a fan in general. I knew “The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By” was one of Simenon’s attempts at serious literature and was very eager to dive into it. Since this is a little like enjoying Sherlock Holmes and expecting Doyle to pump out a Thomas Hardy novel every once in a while, it was a bit of a gamble. Did the gamble pay off?

We can begin with the plot, which is rather straightforward. Kees Popinga has a nice, conventional life as a clerk in a Dutch firm until his boss bankrupts the company through embezzlement and incompetence. This causes a sudden break in Kees’ psyche, and he resolves to live according to his own will, irrespective of the opinions or suggestions of society. Unfortunately, this leads him to acts of violence, life as a fugitive, and a soul-searching game of cat-and-mouse with French newspapers and police.

The cause (bankrupt employer) and effect (acts of violence) may frame the model, but they are a simple means to Simenon’s end. In this case, Simenon’s “end” is a psychological examination of a desperate man’s mind, interspersed with brief periods of action which move him from one rationalization to the next. The novel is at its best when it contrasts our observations with Kees’ examination of his motives and actions (was he really living according to his own will as a sociopathic genius, or was he a pathetic weirdo pushed to and fro by an indifferent society?).

Simenon’s style is intentionally “tough” on the reader (Roman Dur), with a blend of seedy imagery and unreliable narration. We are initially tempted sympathize with a betrayed man’s worldview, but increasing layers of delusion combine with the gap between our observation and Kees’ thoughts to create an irrecoverable distance between reader and subject.

Simenon’s dive into delusion is convincing, and his prose paints his normal succinct-yet-vivid picture of Parisian life in the 1930’s, but is this enough to elevate this novel beyond genre fiction into the realms of Literature? If Simenon set out to create a literary work, how does it compare to accepted classics? Unfortunately, it compares poorly in my opinion. Sadly, “The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By” is not in the same league as masterpieces like Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Red and The Black. Simenon may be a master of mood and plot in his bread-winning genre, but here he comes across as a mere journeyman in the realms of Dostoyevsky and Stendhal.

In the end, I felt as if I was in Maigret’s territory without seeing Maigret, which is a shame. It was more thoughtful than standard Maigret fare, but that thoughtfulness did not go to sufficient lengths to make up for what is sacrificed in terms of plot and pacing. “The Man…” begins with Julius De Coster suggesting that Kees doesn’t matter; I ended up wondering the same thing by the time I finished. So…did the gamble pay off? In my opinion: barely.