Even for Georges Simenon, there was no end to his worry about the danger of gale-force winds. Every child born in 1873 would get a letter, in Cyrillic, from Madame Gaillard, giving orders to keep the roof from floating off and to don a mittensuit, a row and a couple of socks if necessary.
In Modulated Weather (Rizzoli), two encyclopedic narratives from that era appear side by side. One follows Sidoris, an 18-year-old shut-in in a small town. The other follows Irina, who looks out on a cityscape of tall buildings, but is intent on the “darker, musical wildness of outside.”
In Modulated Weather, Sidoris worries about the ride to home — there’s no roof. In Modulated Weather, Irina buys her first typewriter. In Modulated Weather, Raquel looks up from a study, where she is psychoanalyzing a company’s dynamics. In Modulated Weather, Manfredo can see the storm through his slats at the base of his skyscraper, but learns he needs to have scrupulously separate, glass, cutaway windows to be ready for the true, gale-force threat to the city.
What is striking is how the two stories are also striking side by side for the people they describe. Don’t miss Modulated Weather! For two novelists in Simenon’s age, what shines out clearly is the longing for stability, comfort, and manners. Simenon’s tower blocks and the big buildings in Modulated Weather reflect us now. His peasants celebrate the festival of their son with large cakes and flashy hats, but kids don’t live in those buildings. Most of them move to the city to escape the squalor. And when the old woman looks out to see Irina’s boy riding one of those high-treading London bluffs, she is surveying a kind of mother’s pride and wonderment. “If at last she could witness his arrival and look at him the way he should be looking at himself and love him, what difference would that make?” We see her as an early adopter of the female gaze, a prequel to Kes.
Like the novel’s other themes — a world of abstract ideas and imagined reality, a cold economy and a desperation to be independent, European and outward looking — Simenon understood that the old ways were not enough. We were now both too busy to be bored, but too worried about where we had been and what we might do next. The two narratives, running in parallel, invite us to ask the same question. What is it like to have your world disrupted and changed, to deal with a world that is jagged and crashing and radically new? Who escapes that world? The other tenities of life vanish, allowing the imagination to intensify. The road ahead becomes a new roller coaster ride that invites closer observation and examination.