We were running away. But as far as I was concerned, it wasn't from the Germans, from the bullets and bombs. from death...It was the hour of my meeting with Fate.
1940, Marcel Feron with his pregnant wife and daughter flee from their small French town, Fumay, in anticipation of the German invasion. Having boarded the train in different carriages, he eventually becomes separated from them when the carriages were unhitched along the way.
As the journey progresses without them, Marcel finds an unexpected escape from his otherwise formulated life to an unconventional, primal existence, free of the responsibilities he has just left behind.
"The idea of going back to my street, my house, my workshop, my garden, my habits, the labeled radios waiting on the shelves to be repaired, struck me as unbearable."
As the train frequently stops and starts, Marcel changes from passiveness to passion. He has an affair with a stranger, becoming even a little obsessed with her.
"It was just that, for an indeterminate period, I was living on another level, where the values had nothing in common with those of my previous existence."
His behavior seems cold and irrational, seeing that he has been disunited from his family. Yet, having had survived TB as a teen and four years in a sanatorium, Marcel somehow feels his appointment with Fate has finally arrived, and he is sampling what it has brought him.
"I am not ashamed to say that I was happy, with the happiness which bore the same relation to everyday happiness as the sound produced by passing a violin bow across the wrong side of the bridge bears to the normal sound of a violin. It was sharp and exquisite and deliciously painful."
The prose is finespun, not giving in to the harshness of a wartime tale. Simenon writes with control, intending not to overpower his story with atrocities of war; rather to describe simply the effects of war on his main character, who, for just a short period as a refugee, oddly received a taste of a different kind of freedom.
This was a satisfying, short psychological teaser at 153 pages. Some other Georges Simenon's psychological stories: Act of Passion and The Strangers In The House were a bit longer and more dramatic.