In this week’s British Medical Journal column (subscription required), Dalrymple offers a precis of Georges Simenon’s 1947 novel Letter to My Judge:
Dr Alavoine is married to a woman whom he does not love and who does not love him. After 10 years he meets a young woman called Martine in a bar in Nantes, who has had a chequered and perhaps unsavoury past. He falls instantly and passionately in love with her, and by various subterfuges manages to introduce her into his household as an employee. Inevitably his wife discovers their real relationship, and Alavoine decides to leave with Martine for Paris.Alavoine is intensely jealous of Martine, not because she is unfaithful but because of her past, because he is not the only man to have slept with her. Several times he punches her when he thinks of this, and, according to him, she accepts the blows with humility. He comes to the conclusion that he must kill her to cancel out her sordid past and to return her to a state of innocence, in which their love will be forever perfect. As he strangles her, she looks at him first with fear, but then with “a look of resignation and deliverance, a look of love.”What is alarming about this is that so much of the story is autobiographical. Simenon, like Dr Alavoine, was married to a wife whom he did not love and took a woman with whom he had a violent, jealous relationship into his household on the pretext of employing her. Like Martine, she had both a past and a large scar across her abdomen attesting to that past. Simenon didn’t kill her, of course, confining himself later to mere character assassination in his books. But it was always Simenon’s point that the dividing line between the killer and those who do not kill was much finer than usually supposed. Apparently, he knew; he was Dr Alavoine.