BBC Radio 4, 11 February 2009
Detective stories have always proved a fascinating literary genre. Ostensibly they are the most logically constructed of fictional forms, with the plot following a linear pattern, as the master detective gradually assembles clues and discovers the murderer. In most cases detectives provide a source of stability in a hostile world; we trust in their judgment as they engage in their painstaking work. Sometimes - as in the case of Raymond Chandler - the detective story writer is less interested in the plot and more in his fictional creation's state of mind, as he tries to make sense of what happens around him. Philip Marlowe frequently discovers that some cases cannot be solved; in the amoral world of 1940s California the private dick is basically expendable.
Monsieur Monde Vanishes provides an interesting twist on the detective story, as the eponymous central character (Richard Greenwood) disappears from his Paris apartment and spends the next few months making sense of his past and what he should do in the future. The quest is an emotional one, as Monde discovers how and why his life up until now has proved so unsatisfying. His mental reflections are juxtaposed with the futile efforts of his wife Julie (Claire Knight) to find out why he has vanished in such mysterious circumstances.
In Ronald Frame's adaptation Julie's role seemed superfluous: what really mattered was how Monde made sense of his life. In some ways this revealed Simenon's misogyny, being preoccupied solely with his male protagonist's state of mind and bringing in female characters as accessories to keep the story moving along. But within this limited masculinist frame of reference, we learned that Monde is basically an egoist; if he suffered from dissatisfaction he only had himself to blame. The name 'Monde' is significant here, as Simenon suggests that his experiences are universal; every man suffers from mid-life crises, and they must engage in emotional detective-work to solve them. Monsieur Monde Vanishes is less a whodunit than a whydunit, as its conducts a sub-freudian enquiry into the protagonist's state of mind. The director was Patrick Raynor.