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Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: New York (page 1 of 6)

“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town” Part Deux

More Holiday Highlights

Halfway through our holiday in New York, and we were in the grips of an Indian summer with temperatures in the mid-70s, which had been perfect for our river cruise the day before. What came next?


198 Thu Smilodon Sabre-toothed tiger (600x800)A day concentrating on the natural world. This meant a crosstown bus through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History to give it its full name.

209 Thu Ocean hall (800x600)The morning was spent wandering the halls of dinosaurs, fossils,  animal dioramas including the suspended Blue Whale in the Great Ocean Hall, and seeing a live axolotl in one of the special exhibits plus all the gemstones and rocks in the geology section.

223 (800x600)We took our street food lunch into Central Park opposite, and then wandered for a bit past the famous Alice in Wonderland statue before bussing down to Central Park Zoo which was absolutely lovely.

231 (800x600)Juliet and I both love zoos, as long as thought is put into giving the animals a good life there of course. This tiny zoo had red pandas, snow leopards, and a herd of inquisitive chinstrap penguins in its collection. We headed back uptown slightly earlier this day as we had plans for the evening…

We did the Empire State Building at night, going up once dark.  Before you get close to the lifts, you have to walk for what feels like miles between velvet ropes, zig-zagging up and down the mezzanine.  I guess it is designed to minimise queues for the lifts – keep ’em walking – but was just irritating to me!

P1030318 (600x800)

Chrysler from the Empire State Bldg

Once up though, the iconic views open up again and you forget the pain of getting there – your next mission is now to avoid all the buggies pushchairs and selfie sticks (they were everywhere!) to reach the viewpoints to take your own photos. If you want to go up to the 102nd floor observatory from the 86th, it’ll cost you an extra $20 each – we declined.

The Empire State Building  does stay open until 2am when I’m sure it would have been quieter – 8pm was rather busy and no time nor room for pretending you’re meeting someone like Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.


A change of pace today – although driven out of the hotel early by the noise of the city inspectors who started work shortly after 8am, we headed downtown for a long subway ride to Brooklyn. The heat had broken giving us a crisp, autumn day and we started off browsing the shops in Williamsburg which is cool and hip.  I managed to sneak in my only bookish purchase at Spoonbill & Sugartown while Juliet was browsing a gift and stationery shop next door.  We lunched  at a neighbourhood cafe Fabiane’s, before heading back to Brooklyn Bridge Park and more iconic views back across to Manhattan.P1030431 (800x600)

We dallied with an ice-cream from the Brooklyn Ice-Cream Factory before heading back uptown for more midtown shopping. I did drag my daughter into the cavernous Strand Books for a quick look, but didn’t have the inclination to submit Juliet to being bored while I browsed the second-hand shelves.


P1030456 (800x600)Our last day. After packing and leaving our cases to pick up later, we headed towards the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway.  Rather like the Staten Island Ferry which is free if you don’t get off (you only have to pay coming into Manhattan boarding in S.I.), the R.I.A.T. big cable car ride is the price of a subway ride – or included in a Metrocard. So we went over to the island, confirmed there was nothing to do there (it’s a mix of industrial and residential), and came back – but again you get good views and it’s another different form of transport!

P1030464 (800x600)We lunched in a proper diner, then headed back to Midtown for more shopping – starting at Michael’s  which is an arts and crafts chain a bit like Hobbycraft in the UK, but not as nice. So over to Greenwich Village and Washington Square (right) for a last stop on our touristic itinerary.  It was heaving with buskers, prayer groups, dog-walkers, the young and the old alike.

Getting homesick as you do on your last day of a holiday, we headed back back to the hotel and then to JFK a bit early. Now, we need a holiday from our holiday to recover!

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While there are undoubtedly bargains to be had in New York, Levis for $25 at Century 21 if you can find your size for instance,  T-shirts in H&M 2 for $10 instead of £10 – that sort of thing, you have to search for them. I want a new Swatch Skin watch but the price of $110 everywhere was exactly the same as the £70 in England. The Duty-free at JFK wasn’t worth bothering with it was so expensive (but we did have a tester squirt of perfume each way – as you do!)  US paperbacks are also more expensive than UK ones.  So New York isn’t a good place for bargain hunting unless you have the time for it.

I did get hassled by a homeless guy inside a coffee shop which was a pain. He asked for change. I politely refused.  He asked another lady for change and she bought him a donut and drink – he wasn’t going to say thanks until she prompted him. Then he came back to me, and said ‘The other white lady helped me out’!  I asked him firmly to leave us alone.  He continued to work the other customers, but kept looking my way. The shop staff seemed quite happy with him being in there. I hate being made to feel guilty in such a persistant and irritating way though. (As I had planned to do anyway, I gave all my spare coins to the Virgin children’s charity on the plane home.)

However to end on a positive side, nearly everyone was really friendly – some shop assistants were over-friendly, but others made up for them.  If you looked lost, it is easy to get disoriented at crossroads in NYC, someone would always point you in the right direction. I think it was much friendlier than London in that respect.  I’m looking forward to going back and exploring more of this fascinating city.

“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town” Part One

Holiday Highlights

I finally got a holiday this year. My daughter and I are just back from New York. I’ve been twice before, the last in Feb 2000 when Juliet was a tadpole in my tummy (so I tell her, theoretically she has been before too!) and the Twin Towers were still standing. The aim this time was to concentrate mostly on stuff that would interest Juliet, so fewer museums of the history, archaelology and art side and more shopping and being totally touristy. We arrived Monday mid-afternoon – and getting through immigration and baggage was a breeze at JFK compared with previous visits.

75 Tues Traffic on FDR drive (800x600)

The Harlem river is just beyond the traffic on FDR Drive

Booking a package with Virgin, we’d chosen an affordable apartment hotel, the Marmara Manhattan on the Upper East Side – a little out of the way, but with river views from our 23rd floor window. It’s nice to have a kitchen/lounge area separate from the bedroom.  Little did we know that their ten yearly inspection by the city would begin during our stay. On our last full day we were driven out early by the noise made by the city engineers on the floor above us, the hotel management arranged a complimentary dinner for us at the Italian restaurant next door which made up for it – thank you guys.

6 Marmara Balcony North Subway building site (600x800)

View north from our hotel balcony

However New York is a total building site – not just where we were: outside on 2nd Ave they are building a new subway line. They started early each day, but noise is a constant in New York – wherever you are, there will be sirens all night and manhole covers rattling, so good sleep can be fleeting, even in ‘quieter’ areas.

We got good value from our 7 Day Metro cards ($31 each, cheaper than London) having only to walk one block for buses and two for the Park Ave subway line. Juliet and I became huge fans of the buses in Manhattan, nice to see where you’re going, better crosstown possibilities and less steps than the subway!

So what did we see?  Here are some highlights:


19 Tues Chrysler Lift doors - Copy (600x800)

Chrysler Building Lift Doors

15 Tues Grand Central - Copy (800x600)First stop was Grand Central Station (left), and through it to the beautiful Chrysler Building – the art deco lobby is gorgeous (right). Then Times Square and clothes shopping in the US chain stores – although my daughter found them a bit too blingy in general – we ended up in a home from home in H&M!

41 Top of Rock to Central Park (600x800)

Central Park from the Top of the Rock

Lunch was street food at the Rockefeller Centre, I had a gyro, Juliet had her first hot dog.  Then, up the ‘Top of the Rock’. I haven’t been up the Rockefeller Building before,  and it certainly has the best high views north over Central Park, the lungs of New York from 66 floors up.

54 Top of Rock to Empire State (600x800)

Top of the Rock South with 1 WTC in the rear.

The View south is also amazing.

We also squashed in a quick visit to MOMA, before heading back uptown, but were too footsore to fully appreciate MOMA’s marvels in detail.  It was all too tempting to just take pictures (with flash off of course), rather than to study composition and technique of the art. I took just a few photos of iconic works, and bought a handful of postcards in the shop to add to my collection.  I had to squeeze one art gallery into our trip though. Cold foot baths and flannels on knees were required to ease the pain by the time we got back to the hotel – a routine that became a daily one!


While eating cheerios, we watched Michael J Fox, Christoper Lloyd and  Lea Thompson from Back to the Future II on the Today breakfast programme on NBC. Yes 21.10.2015 was the date they went back forward to. Made a mental note to buy a copy of USA Today on Thursday as it would have spoof news as if the film events had actually happened the day before to give to my sister-in-law whose birthday is 21st October. (sorry Becky – forgot!)

95 Wed Closer (800x600)An easier morning – we headed off by bus to the west side where we went on one of the Circle Line cruises. We should have circumnavigated the entire island on this cruise, but unfortunately, the entrance to the Harlem river had been closed by the police who were searching it for a weapon after a police officer was murdered on FDR Drive, also now closed, the night before – strange to see it empty of traffic.  So we went as far round the island in both directions as we could which was great as you saw everything twice, once in each direction.  We chose the cruise over visiting Liberty & Ellis Islands which I’d done before, but still got close to enough for great photo ops.

148 Wed Wall St Heliport (800x600)One amazing hive of activity you could only appreciate from the river was the Wall St Heliport, with chopper swooping taking off and swooping in to land all the time.

More street food for lunch, then we headed downtown to the 911 Memorial and Museum.  The two huge pools where the towers stood with water cascading down into the centres were moving and calming in the sunshine. The Museum below the plaza was similarly affecting, showing the exposed foundations of the towers, and the twisted and fractured remains of the pillars, alongside memorials to those who died.

178 Wed pm Flatiron (600x800)To cheer ourselves up afterwards we went shopping. Century 21 is like our TK Maxx, but we couldn’t find the right size jeans for Juliet. Relocating uptown a couple of stops, we consoled ourselves in Bath & Body Works near the Flatiron Building on the corner of Broadway and 5th Ave – one of my favourite skyscrapers (left).

Tired and footsore again, we headed back uptown. I had thought about booking theatre tickets, but the only show that appealed was the new musical of Finding Neverland – songs by Gary Barlow, with rave reviews (depending on your take on him). Even cheap seats were expensive though and we were too tired, so no Broadway show this time. Had we gone in November, we would have made an exception though for another new musical – School of Rock – I hope that comes to London’s West End – could be fun.

That’s the first half of our five nights in New York City – yes, there’s more tomorrow!


Too much life?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanahigara

YanagiharaThis novel has really divided its readers into camps. Most, but not all, of those reading along with Scott didn’t like it, and neither did James and Teresa. But, on the other side, Simon S, Jackie and Rebecca all loved it.

Where do I stand? Well – I’m a little on the fence. It’s not that I lack the courage of my convictions to come out and say that I loved or hated this book. It’s just that for everything I loved about this book, there was nearly always something that irked me too. Irked rather than hated though, so I guess I’m just inside the fence. In truth I found it unputdownable (for as long as I could hold the book up). Once started I was hooked and there was no way I wouldn’t read it through to the end.

It was very interesting to (actually manage for once) to readalong with a group of others, commenting back on  Scott‘s blog after each section. Part three in particular generated a wonderful discussion based around one bad sentence highlighted initially by Janet.

I’m going to assume you’re slightly familiar with the basics of A Little Life by now and just outline a few of my thoughts (there may be slight spoilers!)

  • For me, 746 pages was about two to three hundred too many. I didn’t need all the repetitive detail, although it does emphasise some of the awfulness of Jude’s life of suffering. I read that she disregarded some of the cuts her editor suggested, which was probably a shame.
  • It will make a marvelous mini-series, should someone like HBO be brave enough to make one. There are real ‘duff-duff’ moments (Eastenders signature style cliff-hangers), which leads me to say that I think it may be the latest ‘Great American Soap Opera’ rather than the latest ‘Great American Novel’.  Soaps aren’t all bad though…
  • The author obviously worked hard to be inclusive in her four male leads – sexuality, ethnicity, economic status etc – at the beginning all are there which makes it interesting but also makes it feel like all boxes have been ticked.
  • I loved the beginning. Meeting the four guys, letting Jude take a back step so that we could get to know Willem, JB and Malcolm. Malcolm remained so undeveloped though that he was ultimately expendable. I wanted more Malcolm. I was very fond of Willem, and found JB interesting rather than likeable – his obsession of only painting his three best friends in his art over the years was a little creepy I thought.
  • I had been determined that Jude’s pain wouldn’t get to me. I’ve recently read James Rhodes’ memoir, Instrumental and thought that a fictional account of child abuse couldn’t get to me having read about a real one and the ongoing effects in his life. Although horrific, it didn’t – however, it was when Jude was let down by someone he’d mistakenly begun to trust in part IV that the floodgates opened, and I wept realising that Yanagihara was never going to let Jude stop being a victim, he’d only get sicker as she put it in an interview for Vulture.

“I wanted A Little Life to do the reverse: to begin healthy (or appear so), and end sick — both the main character, Jude, and the plot itself.”

  • Although Yanagihara has said it’s not impossible that Jude could suffer so much and be so successful at work, it is improbable – but, as Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
  • The book never deviated from telling us about the lives of the four men over its forty years or so. If it didn’t involve one of the quartet, it wasn’t in the novel.
  • There were no cultural touchstones at all – it was timeless. This was one of the novel’s great successes, and also one of its bigger flaws. It meant the author didn’t have to bother with anything that would date it, but also that external events that the guys must surely have come into contact with like HIV, 9/11 and everything relating to politics could be left out. Given how detailed she was about the minutiae of things, I missed a bit of scene-setting in this regard.
  • There were other things I missed. I’d have loved more about the lives of Harold and Andy, the two other men who loved Jude as surrogates, father and big brother respectively. By the time Yanagihara introduces Andy’s surname, it seems too late; the author keeps introducing little snippets of information like this that you would have expected earlier in the text.
  • Malcolm gets the least page-space of the quartet (see above). He’s the straight married one. Conveniently he and Sophie decide not to have children; it’s never mentioned again. There will be no next generation for any of them – a godchild for Jude would have cast a spanner in the works, giving him a cause to live for.
  • Even when Jude does allow himself to be happy, he’s still totally insecure, even in bed next to Willem:

‘All I want,’ he’d said to Jude one night, trying to explain the satisfaction that at that moment was burbling inside him, like water in a bright blue kettle, ‘is work I enjoy, and a place to live, and someone who loves me. See? Simple.’

Jude had laughed, sadly. ‘Willem,’ he said, ‘that’s all I want, too.’

‘But you have that,’ he’d said quietly, and Jude was quiet too.

‘Yes,’ he said, at last. ‘You’re right.’ But he hadn’t sounded convinced. (p521)

  • As a portrait of friendship, and the trials and tribulations of maintaining friendships over the years, this novel did touch me deeply. However, it was also very claustrophobic – it was lot of life crammed, even shoehorned, primarily into Jude’s experience. Even when there was momentary relief from the misery, you knew that something else would be around the corner.
  • I’m so glad the UK cover illustrates the apartment that Willem and Jude rent together in the first part – one of the more positive sections of the book. I would have had to take the d/j off if I had the US cover with its anguished face on the cover.

So, there you have it, a book I enjoyed but didn’t love, a compulsive but flawed read that didn’t quite make the hype worth it.  Will it win the Man Booker? It must be favourite, but I have a feeling this could be Anne Tyler’s year (since Marilynne Robinson was not shortlisted)… Who can tell.

Which camp did you fall into, or did you like me stay nearer the fence with A Little Life?  (7/10)

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Source: Own copy.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Pub Picador 2015. Hardback, 746 pages.

Social Reading with Scott & Friends

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

YanagiharaI had been reluctant to read this much-hyped Booker longlisted novel, but after Rebecca’s review for Shiny New Books I was beginning to move off the fence, so that when Scott of Me & My Big Mouth announced a readalong, or as he calls it ‘social reading’ I was ready to join in.

The book has seven parts and the plan is to read one every two or three days. Today is report-back day on the first part ‘Lispenard Street‘ which is 83 pages long.

Most novels use the first chapters to introduce their characters, A Little Life is no difference in that respect.  We meet the quartet of college roommates who have now graduated, moved to the Big Apple and are busy trying to make a life for themselves a few years on.

There’s JB the Haitian painter who’s waiting to be discovered; Willem, a Scandinavian from the Midwest, waits tables while waiting for his big break as an actor; Malcolm is coasting as a junior architect at a prestigious firm while still living at home with his (well-off) parents; and there’s Jude whom we’ll come back to later.

All the bases are covered too: racially – black, white, half and half, and an unknown mix; sexually – straight, gay, undecided; economically – rich and poor; personalities – Willem is kind and handsome, JB. is outgoing, Malcolm is inhibited, and Jude is the brilliant, tortured one.

This first section concentrates on Willem and Jude finding a bijou and run-down apartment to move into in Lispenard Street, it is being sub-let by a friend of JB’s. At the viewing Willem asks:

“Does the elevator work well here?” Willem asked abruptly, turning around.

“What?” Annika replied, startled. “Yes, it’s pretty reliable.” She pulled her faint lips into a narrow smile that JB realized, wit a stomach-twist of embarrassment for her, was meant to be flirtatious. Oh, Annika, he thought. “What exactly are you planning on bringing into my aunt’s apartment?”

“Our friend,” he answered, before Willem could. “He has troule climbing stairs and needs the elevator to work.” (p11)

This is the first intimation that Jude is in some way disabled – but whether from birth, accident of other injury we don’t know yet.

The novel goes on to give us some back stories on JB, Malcolm and Willem, saving Jude for later.  We will find out a little about Jude’s present though – he’s a talented lawyer who’s good at maths. He also self-harms and is in constant pain.  Jude looks bound to be the main protagonist of the novel, with his three protectors.

Well, based on these beginning chapters, I’ve fallen for Willem already and can’t wait (although I know it’s bound to be awful) to find out about Jude.

It’s still just summertime – and the reading is easy!  I’m hooked, and it’s part two on Friday (I’ll only post again at the end, but will comment over at  Me & My Big Mouth.)

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A modern take on Jeeves & Wooster

Wake up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames

wake up sirJonathan Ames is apparently a bit of a cult author in the USA as novelist, essayist, columnist, storyteller and creator of a sitcom for HBO called Bored to Death. I’d not heard of him before, but was piqued by the premise of his 2004 novel Wake up, Sir! which has recently been published in the UK and is an unashamed contemporary tribute to Wodehouse.

Alan Blair is a thirty-year-old American writer with one book under his belt and is struggling to get started with his difficult second one. He is a drinker, single, Jewish and full of neuroses, sexual, mental – you name it he suffers from it. He lives in Manhattan sponging on his beloved Aunt and ghastly Uncle, but having come into some money via an inheritance, he employs a personal valet to look after him. Said valet just happens to be called Jeeves.

…I went into the kitchen and Jeeves was there, beaming in at the precise moment that I made my entrance, which he’s very good at. He’s always appearing and disintegrating and reappearing just when the stage directions call for him.

Now I come to think of it, given the Star Trek analogy, there is a Vulcan quality to Jeeves, matching the unemotional Mr Spock always looking after Jim Kirk isn’t there?

Even with the assistance of Jeeves, Alan can’t stop drinking and his relations have had enough. Tough love is required – they offer him rehab or eviction. Alan has already decided to take off for a writing retreat so chooses the latter option and goes to bed worrying.

I started rubbing the bony center of my nose, which I always rub when things have gone badly. Then midway through this nose massage, I heard a slight aspiration – Jeeves, like humidity, had accumulated on my left. Jeeves, I think, is closely related to water. They say we’re all 50 percent H2O but Jeeves is probably 90 percent. Jeeves and water seep in everywhere, no stopping them, like this underground lake that starts in Long Island, I’m told, and then pops up in Connecticut. So Jeeves spilled over from his lair, the bedroom next to mine, and was now standing alongside me, like mist on a mirror.

Blair and Jeeves set off for an upstate Jewish spa town Sharon Springs and arrive only to find it mostly boarded up, the bathhouse abandoned and ruined. Alan, drunk as usual, manages to get beaten up badly after a disastrous phone call to a number in a lavatory stall! However, they discover that in Saratoga nearby, there is a proper artist and writer’s retreat called the Rose Colony, and they have a vacancy. It would be the ideal place for Alan to dry out and get on with his writing …

We’re now halfway through the book, and so far it had been an entertaining slog with not enough happening, but once we’re through the gates of the Rose Colony the pace picks up and we finally meet a bunch of characters that are just as crazy as Blair himself. Blair is communing with novelist Alan Tinkle and his whisky bottle (falling off the wagon afresh each day). Tinkle is telling him all about his particular problem of overstimulation:

“Along with heavy drinking, I do preventative masturbation four or five times a day so that I can go out in public.”

This all sounded oddly familiar. Then I reassured myself: I might have shared some of his symptoms, but that can be said for most psychiatric illnesses.

“Why do you think this has happened to you?” I asked. “Maybe you should see Oliver Sacks. It could be neurological. Like the man who thought his wife was a cocktail waitress.”

“I don’t get any sex. That’s my problem. I’m thirty-one; I haven’t had sex in nine years.”

What could I say to comfort him? Nine years was a terribly long time. One hardly goes nine years without doing most things, except maybe trips to the Far East. …

It soon becomes clear that sex is high on everyone’s mind at the Rose Colony. Alan himself falls for an artist called Ava, who has a magnificent nose. They eventually succumb and there is a drawn out and often cringeworthy, but occasionally hilarious, sex scene:

The robe opened up. She was naked.
I put my hand on her full, fat breast. Then I put my hand under her breast. Nobody had enjoyed weighing something as much since Archimedes.

Alan manages to get into scrape after scrape, upsetting most of the residents and staff including the enigmatic giant Dr Hibben, the colony’s director. Thank goodness for Jeeves whose ubiquity will always save the day.


Fry & Laurie as Jeeves & Wooster from the ITV adaptation

Although the character of Jeeves in this novel could have been lifted straight from Wodehouse, that of Alan Blair is, while remaining true to Bertie Wooster’s essential nature is a little different.  Like Bertie, he is the narrator of the tale, and he shares Wooster’s dandyish tendencies, and naive refusal to grow up for instance. However, he is pathetic in his alcoholism and you can’t help but feel sympathy for him in his desire to deal with his condition, which is something I have rarely felt for the buffoonish Wooster. I loved the way that Jeeves is able to insinuate himself into any situation without anyone noticing. Indeed, in another review of this book in Quadrapheme web magazine, the reviewer wonders whether Jeeves might be a figment of Blair’s imagination? Upon reflection, that seems entirely possible!  (It didn’t stop me picturing Stephen Fry as Jeeves all the way though).

I did feel that this book took far too long to get going, we don’t reach the Rose Colony, scene of most of the comedy and bawdiness, until halfway through it’s 334 pages – the Wodehouse inspired Charlie Mortdecai books (well the first two, see here) are at least as racy, consistently funny and all over inside 200 pages.  Although not actually as filthy as I’d imagined reading the publicity, I enjoyed Ames’s creation which is more polished than mere pastiche, I just wish the first half had been compressed. (8/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further at Amazon UK, please click below:
Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames (2004, pub Pushkin Press, 2015) paperback original, 334 pages.

Simenon's most autobiographical roman dur…

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon

three bedroomsLast month I had the opportunity to meet John Simenon, Georges’s son at an event celebrating the prolific Belgian author and his work. Apart from all the Maigret novels, Simenon was famed for his romans durs (hard novels) which are standalone, and typically quite dark and noirish in character  – I previously reviewed one of them, Dirty Snow, here. At the event, I mentioned to John that I’d read one of the romans durs in preparation for the event: Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, which is reputedly very autobiographical and he told me that it was basically a novelisation of how his mother and father met.

John’s mother was Denyse Ouimet. Georges met her in Manhattan in 1945 when he interviewed her for a secretarial job. She was seventeen years younger than Georges and they married in 1950, once Georges’s divorce from his first wife was finalised. Their relationship was, by all accounts, tempestuous and Denyse suffered from psychosis in later years, but Three Bedrooms was written in 1946 when the couple were still getting to know each other, and could seen as coming straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Being so autobiographical, it’s not perhaps a typical Simenon in plot terms being a romance, but it is a typical Simenon in writing style.

Francis Combe is middle-aged, a noted French actor who has escaped to Manhattan from Paris when dumped for a younger man by his wife. However, once in New York, he finds parts difficult to come by and makes ends meet voicing radio dramas and living in a small apartment in Greenwich village. The novel opens with him waking at 3am and going out to walk rather than listen through thin walls to the drunken antics of his neighbours:

What were they doing, up there in J.K.C.’s apartment? Was Winnie vomiting yet? Probably. Moaning, at first softly, then more loudly, until at last she burst into an endless fit of tears.

Forced to be an insomniac, he goes into a late night diner and meets Kay in a scene that comes straight out of Hopper’s painting Nighthawks which was painted in 1942, (and is even more amazing in real life at the Art Institute of Chicago – it was one of my main reasons for choosing to visit Chicago one vacation ages ago – another was to see Grant Wood’s American Gothic there too, but that was out on loan. Grr!)


Nightawks by Edward Hopper, 1942. Art Institute of Chicago

‘You’re French?’
She asked the question in French, a French that at first he thought betrayed no accent.
‘How’d you know?’
‘I didn’t. As soon as you came in, even before you said anything, I just thought you were French.’

They eat a little, make small talk – he finds out she’s from Vienna – then, they walk through the streets of the Village and end up in the second bedroom – in a hotel.

The next day, Francis takes Kay back to his apartment, she essentially moves in straight away having been thrown out of the one she shared with a girlfriend which had been financed by Jessie’s now ex-boyfriend. At first Francis tries to resist falling in love with Kay, but Kay immediately and totally falls in love with him:

She said, ‘When we met’ – and she said it even more softly, so that what she was confiding to him now seemed to vibrate within his chest – ‘I was so alone, so hopelessly alone, I was so low, and I new that I’d never pull out of it again, so I decided to leave with the first man who showed up, no matter who he was.
‘I love you, François.’

Having been found and her feeling declared, Kay becomes resolutely upbeat, willing to put up with all of Combe’s moodiness (and boy, he is a moody one!). He is the half of this couple that needs convincing, allowing Kay to look after him, sometimes almost smothering him it seems, but over the course of a few weeks as they walk for miles, eat (slowly), drink (lots), smoke, talk, embrace, being quiet together, collecting Kay’s things from the third bedroom,  Combe will eventually succumb.  It’s touching that they find ‘their song’ on a jukebox, and this is a trigger for Combe – realising his own feelings after fits of jealousy, wondering what she is doing when they are momentarily parted.

The style may be typical Simenon but, there’s a Gallic coolness to it. If you weren’t aware of the autobiographical elements of the story, it would take you some time to warm to Combe, or Kay, but you actually do will them to work it out and find the happiness they are both searching for.  That certainly raised this short novel in my expectations, and I really enjoyed it. (8.5/10)

I read the NYRB edition which has an excellent introduction by Joyce Carol Oates.  The novel was translated by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman.  For another review of this story, read that by Jacqui – click here

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The Late Monsieur Gallet by Georges Simenon

galletSpace here for a short word about the second Maigret novel in the new Penguin editions, translated by Anthea Bell. This was the first Maigret to be published as a book, rather than serialised as Pietr the Latvian had been (reviewed here).

Maigret is sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Monsieur Gallet, a travelling salesman – or so his widow thinks.  He turns out to be living a double life, and his family seem to be rather unpeturbed by his death – What is going on?

In a mere 155 pages it got so complicated I struggled to keep up and Maigret had to display much dogged determination to solve the mystery too. Aside from Maigret himself,  there were no characters to really warm to either. Not one of the best for me. (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, affiliate link, please click below:
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan (New York Review Books Classics)
The Late Monsieur Gallet: Inspector Maigret #2 Penguin classics.

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