A young man of about thirty comes to Paris because he has found a job at a bank. Since he is rather poor he rents a room at the Pension Lemercier, a run-down boarding house. On his first night at the new residence he finds a little hole in the wall above his bed, through which he is able to see and hear the occupants next door. His first neighbor is a young lady and he invades her privacy and solitude by watching her. Thoroughly enjoying this expirence he develops a "desire to see the true nature of men and women", which is so conveniently laid bare before his eyes. He becomes the voyeur par excellence as he avidly watches everything that goes on in the neighboring room.
Soon, his whole life revolves around the hole up in the wall .He hardly ever leaves the room, lying in wait for the next "victim". And his patience is highly rewarded. Over the next few weeks he gets to watch and overhear a series of interesting people in intimate situations, among them a young woman undressing in the soft light of a candle; a couple committing adultery; an old man who is seriously ill wanting to marry a young, pregnant woman although he knows that she is in love with another man; two doctors talking about the hopeless condition of the old man (and then having a very intersting discourse about cancer being a kind of localised diabetes); the dialogue between a priest trying to convince him to confess his sins and the old man -remaining firm in his refusal ; the death of the old man which leads the voyeur to highly philosophical musings on the nature of death and decomposition; the love-making of the young widow and her boyfriend on the death-bed of her old short-time husband.
The young man finally leaves the boarding-house because he has seen enough and has to reort for work at the bank.
A great book by Henri Barbusse
whose work is considered by some to be the true turning point in French twentieth century literature. At times highly philosophical, sometimes extremely funny and always irreverent, Hell
is one of the best studies of voyeurism ever written. Although not as notorious as Octave Mirbeau´s "The Torture Garden",
it is a far better book. Highly recommended.