“Weren’t they starting from scratch anyway?”
Loneliness and despair are the core themes at the heart of the novella Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Simenon. Francois Combe is a French actor who left Paris abruptly after his wife, a successful actress, left him for another actor half his age. He’s living alone in a dirty, untidy New York apartment. One evening, the routine and predictable sounds from the neighbours next door, send him out on the streets. He ends up in a bar, and there he meets a 33-year-old woman named Kay. Francois notices her immediately on the next bar stool, and “what he really liked about her were the signs of wear and tear.” She’s homeless and just as lonely and desperate as he is. After more than a few drinks, they check into a cheap hotel. This is the beginning of an affair that is based in mutual need. Both Francois and Kay need somebody–anybody–and it just so happens that they meet and connect.
The interesting thing about the story is the way in which the relationship is encapsulated within 150 plus pages. Francois and Kay immediately latch onto one another, and by the next day, they are already curiously dependant. Francois can’t bear to be parted from Kay, and she worries that he’ll never come back. Relationships always go through phases, and Francois and Kay’s relationship moves rapidly through each of these phases–the glow of the honeymoon period, the possessive phase, the disapproval of a friend–all the way to disillusion and moving apart towards self-protection.
On the unpleasant side, neither Francois nor Kay are interesting or nice people. They are overwhelming desperate, and this desperation oozes into all aspects of their relationship. Kay constantly plays the same old sad songs on the jukebox, and she “seemed to be seeking out the despair of others.” Francois treats Kay rather brutally at one point, and she just absorbs it. They quickly establish a routine together–they get up around noon, walk around the city, and drink at numerous bars along the way. This gets old, and caused me to feel a general lack of interest in the characters or the outcome. The two characters remain somewhat cold and remote in the middle of all this misguided passion. This is not my favourite Simenon.