A Reader’s Guide to Simenon by Patrick Marnham

This post was meant as a private note, however I thought it might be of interest to any regular or sporadic reader of The Game’s Afoot. 

I copy and paste from the Wall Street Journal HERE

Simenon became world-famous for Inspector Maigret, the good police detective who solved crimes through intuition and a shrewd understanding of human frailty. There are 76 Maigret books, most of which evoke a pungent world of 1950s Paris and provincial France: street markets, warm bars, cold beer and a policeman with the patience of the hound of heaven. The best include The Madman of Bergerac (1932), Maigret’s Dead Man (1948), Maigret on Holiday (1948), Maigret and the Calame Report (1955), The Patience of Maigret (1965) and Inspector Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife (1951). You couldn’t go wrong starting with any of these mysteries.

But Simenon also wrote 117 literary novels, which he called romans durs: psychological stories that examine the behavior of apparently non descript characters at a time of extreme personal crisis. The greatest of these have been ranked among the finest French-language fiction of the 20th century. Between 1946 and 1955, Simenon lived in America, mainly in Arizona and Connecticut, and during this period he produced many of his best novels. Three Beds in Manhattan (1946) is a study of sexual jealousy and fear of loss. Act of Passion (1947) takes the form of a letter written by a convicted murderer, a doctor in a small French town, to the judge who condemned him. The Hitchhiker (1955) takes place on Labor Day on the road between New York and Maine and is the story of an alcoholic whose wife is kidnapped by a killer on the run. Dirty Snow (1948), considered by many to be his finest novel, takes place in an unidentified country under German occupation during World War II. Its anti-hero is an 18-year-old youth who commits abject crimes but refuses to break under torture.

Simenon’s is a world that you can smell and taste and that you enter in riveted fascination. His characters stay with you for life. There is the drunken lawyer in Strangers in the House (1939), for instance; or the elderly sisters in Poisoned Relations (1938), trapped in mutual hatred inside the family home. There is also the building contractor in The Accomplices (1955), watching as the police close in on the hit-and-run driver who has killed a bus full of school children. Although you may be appalled by the imaginary world that the novelist inhabited, you are not repelled. On the contrary, you are drawn back to it again and again. So fecund was Simenon’s imagination that there can be no short list of his finest novels. Any such summary must include, along with the titles mentioned above, The Engagement (1933), The House by the Canal (1933), The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (1938), Monsieur Monde Vanishes (1945), The Heart of a Man (1950), The Door (1962) and The Little Saint (1965).

You can also find here other suggestions: The top ten Maigret novels

Also, my previous posts about Simenon: 

Reseña: El loco de Bergerac (Le fou de Bergerac) de Georges Simenon 

Georges Simenon’s romans durs

If you, like myself – your humble blog keeper-, have arrived late to Simenon, I hope you may find useful this information

13 thoughts on “A Reader’s Guide to Simenon by Patrick Marnham”

  1. Just been reading some Maigret books Jose Ignacio – thanks very much for this. Simenon’s productivity was extraordinary (300 books just in the interwar years!)

  2. Thanks for passing this on. I wonder why the Maigret short stories (28 of them) that are above and beyond the 75 (sic) novels get so little mention. Some of them are very good.

    1. You’re welcome David. I can’t answer that I’m afraid. Just wonder if they all have been translated. My undertstanding is that Penguin will publish the 75 books for the English audience and Acantilado is doing the same for the Spanish speaking world. I know that Tusquets made an attempt to offer all Simenon books traslated into Spanish some 10/12 years ago, but it was left just in an attempt, after few titles..

  3. Thank you very much for this. I read The Accomplices years and years ago, and the story made such an impression I still remember the premise (but not the ending, so I hope to reread it someday). I also have Act of Passion and The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By and look forward to reading them.

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