A very strange and uneven Simenon. At first, the premise is intriguing: a man, François Combe, leaves his flat due to the noise his neighbor and his neighbor’s odd guest make. How Simenon handles city life—and here, more especially, the pulse and feel of Manhattan—is very acute in the opening scenes: how through the thin walls one can “know” one’s neighbors, their inner psychologies, their demons, all without having met them in the flesh; how the city streets become a theatre on which an individual can enact and try to avoid his or her turmoil; how public spaces allow for the private to be dramatized rather than hidden from view.
The latter is the most interesting to me as far as how Simenon handles this: despite the title’s emphasis on interior, private scenes, it is the more public scenes depicting Combe’s increasingly intimate (and, in my reading, increasingly inorganic) relationship with Kay that makes this novel both Simenon and not-Simenon. While there is a stress on psychology, as David suggests, there is too much in the latter part of the novel which results in a very uneven pace, especially for such a short work. I also found the chamber drama and at times claustrophobic dialogue between Combe and Kay to be cliched, oftentimes reminding me of Godard’s films (e.g., Une femme est un femme, Masculin féminin) but without the certainty of Simenon playing with noir and American genres of pulp. Instead, it feels almost as if Simenon is embracing these rather than playing them off and against one another as he does so well at the start of Three Bedrooms... which ultimately sees the narrative fall quickly into disorder.
This is definitely a worthy read, but it also is in no way indicative of Simenon’s major themes or concerns in his more successful fiction. In many ways, this feels like an experiment that half works and half doesn’t: for a writer as prolific as Simenon, perhaps we should applaud him for that rather than begrudge it.