I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Train by Georges Simenon
Published by Melville House on July 12, 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
Against all expectations Marcel Féron has made a “normal” life in a bucolic French suburb in the Ardennes. But on May 10, 1940, as Nazi tanks approach, this timid, happy man must abandon his home and confront the “Fate” that he has secretly awaited. Separated from his pregnant wife and young daughter in the chaos of flight, he joins a freight car of refugees hurtling southward ahead of the pursuing invaders. There, he meets Anna, a sad-looking, dark- haired girl, whose accent is “neither Belgian nor German,” and who “seemed foreign to everything around her.” As the mystery of Anna’s identity is gradually revealed, Marcel leaps from the heights of an exhilarating freedom to the depths of a terrifying responsibility—one that will lead him to a blood-chilling choice.
When it first appeared in English in 1964, British novelist and critic Brigid Brophy declared The Train to be “the novel his admirers had been expecting all along from Simenon.” Until The Train, she wrote, the dazzlingly prolific novelist had been “a master without a masterpiece.”
The Train is a poignant novel about Marcel Feron and his pregnant wife and young daughter living the “normal” life he had always hoped for in the French suburb Ardennes. On May 10, 1940 they woke up to find that the Nazi’s were coming and they were being forced into leaving behind all that they held dear. Marcel packs his family up and they get on the train meant to take them away from the danger. Throughout the train ride Marcel relives the day when him and his wife first met, their first train ride together, and all that she represented.
“For me, she was not just a woman; but the symbol of a normal regular life.”
The morning of May 10, 1940 did not result in panic for Marcel, rather he had always felt that this was bound to happen, that he would be forced to leave behind everything, and that he was going to confront the “Fate” that he has been secretly awaiting for years. When he becomes separated from his wife and child he finds himself surrounded by strangers but as the train travels further away from home their faces start to become familiar to him; and that’s when he meets Anna.
The panic and urgency of everyone leaving their homes and being separated from their family’s causes them to change and feel ‘outside ordinary life and its conventions.’ The affair he ends up having with Anna becomes the sole focus of the book and it seemed at first to be quite strange and peculiar, but it transpired as a result of the shock from leaving their ordinary lives behind. It may not have been acceptable under normal circumstances, but the circumstances were far from normal. He continues searching for his family but stays with Anna till the very end. It was quite sad when the two finally parted ways.
“I hope you’ll be happy, Marcel. I’ve been happy with you.”
The author’s writing style felt choppy and stilted. I’m not sure if this was in fact due to the author’s writing style or if it was simply because of the translation between languages. Overall, this was an interesting reflection of WWII but also of the human response to traumatic situations and the bonds that we create with individuals out of the instinctual need to grasp at life.
“For the first time in my life I had said ‘I love you’ like that, from the depths of my heart. Perhaps it wasn’t she that I loved, but life?”