Original date of publication: 1940
My edition: 2006 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of NYRB Classics
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011
What is The Strangers in the House? A mystery? Noir? I had a hard time figuring this dark tale out. In it, a alcoholic, reclusive is woken out of his rut when a murder is committed in his house. It turns out that Loursat’s daughter, Nicole, has been keeping company with a whole host of shady characters, including the dead man. Interestingly enough, Loursat, once a successful attorney, decides to defend the accused man at trial.
Loursat isn’t particularly what you might expect from the hero of a story. Drunk, overweight, dirty, and ugly, it takes a singular event to wake him out of the stupor he’s lived in since his wife abandoned him eighteen years ago. Shutting himself up in his rooms in one part of the house, he’s virtually a stranger to his daughter and their servants. The characters are the driving force behind this story, rather than the plot.
There’s also something very claustrophobic about and somewhat sinister aspect to this story. Once the murder happens, Loursat finds himself strangely drawn to and fascinated by the group of people his daughter hangs out with, frequently traversing the streets of the French town they live in and visiting the bars his daughter and her friends went to. Oddly enough, he takes on the case of the young man accused of the murder, although he doesn’t know the boy.
Loursat’s motive for doing so wasn’t really clear to me (maybe an attempt to set things right with his daughter?), and it was hard for me to believe that Loursat really had no idea what was going on in his own house. Also, the way the ending played out was a little disappointing (but as I’ve said, this book is more about the characters than the plot; what’s more interesting is seeing how Loursat comes out of his shell once everything happens). But in all, I appreciated this dark, quirky book.