This is one of Simenon’s standalones, which I generally prefer to the more formulaic, of still wonderful, Maigrets. A French family lives comfortably, if claustrophobically, outside of town. The first person narrator is twenty-one and works at the local hospital as a research assistant. She’s having a rather prosaic affair with her employer, an older scientist. Her younger brother is taking classes at the local college, majoring in chemistry.
The two siblings live with their parents in a state of constant tension. The mother is an alcoholic, and goes on binges that the rest of the family calls ‘novenas’. Her behavior seems to date from the beginning of her marriage and has almost a formal structure to it. The tension of her behavior is palpable throughout the story.
A newly hired maid, a sexually obliging sort of girl, Manuela, from Spain, brings some needed air into this hothouse. Both father and son begin sleeping with her. Neither is satisfied with this arrangement.
When Manuela disappears. it is unclear what has happened and the ambiguity will either intrigue or annoy you. The ending is surprising, yet fitting. This was not my favorite Simenon and yet it succeeded in keeping my interest. Short novels stand a better chance of doing that.