Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In by Georges Simenon

“The implication was that Charles Dupeux was the sort of man who might do anything.”

In Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In from author Simenon, mild-mannered accountant Charles Dupeux returns home one day, and much to the astonishment of his wife and daughters, instead of keeping to the routine of joining everyone for the evening meal, he wordlessly retreats to the attic and locks himself in. While Charles’s plump wife, Laurence can’t understand her husband’s actions, she chalks it up to some idiosyncrasy on his part. Their daughters Lulu, Camille and Mauricette are too involved with their own illicit love affairs to be concerned. But when Charles’s self-imposed isolation continues, Laurence begins to wonder if Charles’s behaviour may be rooted in something more than peevish whim.

Charles’s wealthy, unpleasant boss, brother-in-law and business owner Henri Dionnet enters the drama. A cold, harsh and cruel man, it seems somewhat out of character for Henri to become involved or concerned about anyone else’s discomfort. Henri, called to assist in the dilemma, reacts with a surprising amount of emotion. Just what secret exists between these two men is at the heart of this dark novel.

Belgium-born Simenon wrote almost 200 novels and over 15 novellas in his lifetime. Best known for his Maigret novels, Simenon also wrote a substantial number of romans durs (hard novels) known for their psychological complexity. Whereas in some of these novels, he explores the fallout of a man who simply leaves his life of routine and conformity behind (The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, Monsieur Monde Vanishes), in Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In, the protagonist does not leave home and instead we discover the dark corners of his character through his domestic and employment experiences. Locked in the attic, in self-imposed isolation, Charles Dupeux gathers his thoughts and also learns his daughters’ secrets.

Dark and unrelenting in its outlook on domestic life, Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In, presents a portrait of a raucous, extended family. Diverse, strong personalities clash at every family gathering. One wife is locked up for her drunken scenes, and various ne-er-do well relatives posture and preen in front of a captive, familial audience. But more than anything else, Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In dissects the nature of power.

Those of us who love Simenon’s romans durs should enjoy this title. Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In was a very quick read, but in spite of that, this perceptive novella reveals layers of human psychology. Charles Dupeux has spent a lifetime as a powerless individual. Unappreciated by his wife and family, treated with contempt by his employer Henri, Charles grasps, without hesitation an opportunity to turn the tables on his boss. Once he has power over Henri, Charles doesn’t have any particular direction for his revenge, but he proceeds to explore the boundaries of his new-found power, relishing every exquisite sensation of “pure joy” until one evening….

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