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Betty by Georges Simenon – the victim is not always who you think

December 6, 2019 18 comments

Betty by Georges Simenon (1961) Original French title: Betty.

Betty belongs to Simenon’s romans durs. The book opens with a woman, alone in a bar, Le Trou. (What you’d call Hole in the Wall) She’s adrift and visibly hiding from something or someone. She’s in shock after something terrible happened to her. She’s rescued by a woman, Laure Lavancher, who takes her back to her hotel and nurses her.

Slowly, we discover what happened to this woman. Her name is Betty, she’s recently divorced. Her husband found out that she was cheating on him. He comes from a bourgeois family and the reaction is immediate: he divorces her for cause and she knows she will be cut off from her daughters’ lives.

At first, Betty seems like an Emma Bovary. A woman trapped in a marriage she didn’t really want but accepted because what else was there to be for her? And her husband Guy was nice enough. We see a woman not ready to give up her identity as a woman to become exclusively a wife and a mother. In a way, while I commiserated with Guy –no one wants to be cheated on – I also thought that poor Betty’s life was dull and that she wasn’t made to find contentment in cooking, cleaning and mothering. I felt empathy for her because I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mother, I’d be frustrated too.

But as the story progresses, we see Betty interact with the new people she met in that café, the night we got acquainted with her. And her dark side slowly shows up. I didn’t feel so much compassion then as she moved from the position of victim to that of a predator.

She’s like a black spider, someone who crawls on other people’s backs, discreetly reaches their neck and bites. She took Guy in her poisonous net and her modus operandi remains the same with Laure, the woman who nurses her back to health.

Unsurprisingly, Betty was made into a film by Claude Chabrol. Marie Trintignant is Betty, Stéphane Audran is Laure, and Yves Lambrecht is Guy. I didn’t know that when I read it but imagined it as a film with Béatrice Dalle or Chiara Mastroianni as Betty.

Recommended to crime fiction lovers.

Categories: 20th Century
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