Uncle Charles Has Locked Himself In

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

First published in 1942 but only lately translated into English, this psychological novel is classic Simenon: World War II is ignored even though the story is contemporary with it. The Dupeux family is as seedy as the lower middle-class Rouen suburb in which they live. Charles’s wife, Laurence, is fat and lazy. His four daughters are not much: Absent Marie is reputed to be a hooker in Paris; Lulu, at sixteen, has just lost her virginity in very squalid circumstances; Mauricette is having an affair with her married boss; and Camille, in love with her shorthand teacher, promises to be every bit as fat and unimaginative as her mother. Charles himself is a closet embezzler who has no idea what to do with the money.

Henri, however, who is also Charles’s employer, is afraid: Charles has stumbled onto his deepest secret. Laurence scurries to him for advice when Charles will not come out of the attic, and he returns with her, ostensibly to talk some sense into the recluse but in reality to strike a deal. Charles does return to work but will not say anything to Henri about what he knows. Finally the strain is too much; Henri suffers a heart attack. But he does not die.

It is said that the crux of Simenon’s work frequently is found in the very last sentences of his books. This has never been truer than in UNCLE CHARLES HAS LOCKED HIMSELF IN; Simenon shows that silence, far from golden, can be terrible indeed.

Georges Simenon is perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret mysteries. In 1972, he decided to stop writing novels. Many of his earlier works are being translated into English, and this one, translated by Howard Curtis, is particularly fine.