Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The snow was dirty

I finished reading Dirty Snow this weekend, and for a couple hours I walked around in a daze, like I'd been punched in the gut.

Can't put my finger on what it is that makes this book, and all of Simenon's romans durs, so ngaah (that's the sound I make when I'm punched in the gut).

The prose is spare — all the fat is trimmed. But it's not just the tap-tap rhythm, like heels clicking on the crusted snow, that's so evocative. It's all so empty feeling. Not exactly emotionless, there's plenty of hate and fear and wistfulness and sometimes love, even if Simenon doesn't tell you about it. How do I explain this? It's the emptiness of the abyss staring back at you.

I'm still reeling. I still have no idea what happened. Frank kills this man, a noncommissioned officer of the Occupation forces, pretty much on page 1, and you see him getting reckless and then it just gets worse and worse, and poor Sissy! It's unforgivable what Frank does to her. And then Frank's arrested and the book takes a weird turn.

Was he arrested for this murder? Or the other one? Or his crime against Sissy? Or the thing with the stolen watches? To do with his mother's business (she runs a brothel)? For consorting with the wrong people? Someone getting back at him? Who? Sissy's father? One of his mother's girls? One of Kromer's men? Kromer himself? The violinist on the second floor? Where does Monsieur Hamling, the inspector, fit into all this?

We spend the second half of the book detained, inside Frank's head, undergoing months of interrogation (by the Occupation forces), without getting anything straight. There's this faint glimmer of insight, maybe signifying love and redemption, but no, it's gone.

Dirty Snow championed by James Hynes as a better book The Stranger (Camus), with excerpt.
Afterword, by William T Vollmann, in which comparisons are drawn with Middlemarch.

This is my fourth roman dur by Simenon in just over 2 months. I'm bloody addicted. They are very frustrating — if you're the type of reader who likes everything tied up, if you need closure, then Simenon is probably not for you. The appeal for me, I think, lies in how lifelike it all is — not that life is so harrowing and bleak, but in the sense that we can't ever really know anyone, their motivations, what makes them tick. There is no omniscient third-person narrator to explain life to us.

I regret, a little bit, that I'm starting to learn a little bit about Simenon. Art and artist should remain separate, and I feel most strongly about this when I disapprove of the artist. While I'm about to order another batch of romans durs to feed my addiction, it turns out that I don't much like Simenon the man.

Simenon was accused of being a Nazi collaborator, presumably on the grounds of several of his works having been produced as films under the Nazi administration, and this is the reason for which he fled France in 1945, for America. (His younger brother was also accused of being a collaborator; he joined the Foreign Legion and was killed in Indochina.) Though he claims to have no ideology whatsoever, this casts a dark light on how he unfavorably portrayed Jews in his novels.

In the 1982 Radio Canada interview (link below), Simenon comes off as someone quite full of himself — he doth protest too much against the riches and the glory to be taken at his sincere word. Also, his account of his relationship with is daughter, not to mention with his wives and women in general, is somewhat disturbed. He claims to have slept with far more women than Casanova; that most of them were quite probably whores is a trivial point in his view. He's a bit of a jerk, really; and also creepy. Like M Hire, only more sexed.

Radio Canada, GĂ©rard Pelletier, 1960.
Radio Canada, Denise Bombardier, 1982.
The Paris Review: Georges Simenon, The Art of Fiction No. 9.

Simenon in Canada
La bonne quebecoise.
Simenon's cottage at Lac Masson.


Sycorax Pine said...

Hmm. I've never read any Simenon or really even considered it, but the first few paragraph of this review were so stunning ("all the fat is trimmed," "the tap-tap rhythm," the ngaah feeling) that I find myself seriously drawn into the idea.

Stefanie said...

I've been vaguely interested in Simenon but when you wrote "It's the emptiness of the abyss staring back at you" you sold me. Must read him now.

Cipriano said...

Once again [as I have said before] you have me yet more and more interested in the works of Simenon, his own persona notwithstanding.
It's so true, what you mention -- sometimes it is better to know less about an author, until you have read all of his work.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love THE CLOCKMAKER if you have not read that, but just finished NOVEMBER, which was so enigmatic. Not sure what to think of it.