Home > 20th Century > Betty by Georges Simenon – the victim is not always who you think

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

December 6, 2019 Leave a comment Go to 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
  1. December 6, 2019 at 9:17 am

    It’s interesting to see that this Simenon has a female protagonist at the centre of the story. I may well try to track down the film, particularly as it’s directed by Chabrol. Thanks for mentioning that!


    • December 6, 2019 at 9:21 am

      When I was reading, I was thinking it would make a good Chabrol. 🙂


  2. December 6, 2019 at 9:22 am

    What a nice surprise to find recommendations of good Simenon books. I don’t think this was mentioned in his bio by Assouline. I shamelessly admit that I note down book recommendations in bios of authors and tend to disregard anything else. One book that was mentioned in the bio was Les Anneaux de Bicêtre but I haven’t seen it much on readers’ lists.


    • December 6, 2019 at 10:04 am

      Thanks! I picked this one at a second hand bookshop, it was 1€, I thought “Why not” and it’s pretty good. Sometimes you just need to let chance lead you to books.

      I’m not a Simenon specialist, I can’t tell you if Les Anneaux de Bicêtre is a must read or not.

      PS: Your comment and Jacqui’s are the proof that a short billet is better than no billet at all. I’m glad I decided to go for the mini-billets instead of gving up and not write about my backlog.


      • December 6, 2019 at 10:07 am

        You will never see me regretting your posts 🙂


        • December 6, 2019 at 2:25 pm

          As years go by, interactions tend to decrease on billets and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it.


  3. December 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    That sounds excellent, and I thought your short billet captured a flavour of it very well. Certainly well enough to interest me in the book.


    • December 6, 2019 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Max,
      It’s nice to hear from you.
      You’d probably enjoy this one. And it’s short! 😊


      • December 6, 2019 at 3:17 pm

        Possibly OOP in the UK though sadly…


        • December 6, 2019 at 4:44 pm

          Or included in an omnibus edition of the romans durs.


  4. December 8, 2019 at 5:33 am

    Thanks, the size of your review seems perfect to me. In fact, it’s enough to make me curious to try this one


    • December 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

      That’s good to know thanks. Short billets are better than no billet at all.

      There would be much to say about this book, how Simenon crafted the story, the suspense, how venomous Betty is, what it says about the early 60s…


  5. December 9, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    Always happy to read a Simenon review, especially of one I was unaware of. Simenon was part of my 20s and 30s, which means I’ve mostly forgotten what I read. I should have a year soon where he is a ‘feature’ author. I think females playing a big part are relatively unusual for him. As to Simenon being OOP, there was time when all second hand bookshops had a big Simenon/Maigret section, but I suppose those days are past.


    • December 9, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      I haven’t read a lot of Simenons. In my mind, Maigret is a TV series like Columbo, with an old fashion vibe.

      He seems OOP a lot in the English-speaking world. There must be omnibus editions of his works, no?


      • December 10, 2019 at 12:19 am

        I don’t know how many, but I have one. Imagine owning the collected works!


        • December 12, 2019 at 7:39 am

          How can you even be sure that you have them all? With the number of books he wrote and the many pennames, there’s a chance that some escaped the publisher’s notice.


          • December 15, 2019 at 7:20 am

            I buy Maigrets whenever I see them, though I don’t browse second hand shops as often as I used to. My omnibus, a hardback published by Heinemann/Octopus in 1978 has no title other than the author and contains ten novels – a mix of Maigrets and Simenons.

            I don’t have them all of course, which means it’s safe to go on buying.

            (When I found the omnibus, not with my Maigrets but with a shelf of ‘big’ books, I found also a biography of William Burroughs I had completely forgotten about – as I age my own shelves are getting to be as much fun as a bookshop!)


            • December 15, 2019 at 9:33 am

              Second hand shops are a great place to find crime fiction books as readers are more likely to give these ones away. I don’t think there’s as much re-reading for crime fiction as for literary fiction.

              I love to have shelves full of books and a big TBR, it’s like I have my own bookshop, one that only keeps books I enjoy. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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