Thursday, September 30, 2010

Discovering Simenon

I must've read some Simenon, way back when, I'm sure I did, at least one Maigret book, and the more I think about it, I think I recall I read something in high school French class, something abridged or in graphic novel form, I learned the word clochard.

But I couldn't've seen any great appeal in it. Certainly, nothing's compelled me to pick up a Maigret story in the last 25 years.

New York Review Books, though, has a way of making me lust for books I've never heard of, authors I'd dismissed. By my count, they've published 8 books by Simenon to date, none of them featuring Maigret, all of them sounding bleak and psychological and fascinating.

Finally I gave in to temptation and ordered myself a couple, just to see. The first arrived last last week, and once I'd made up my mind to set other books aside, I couldn't put it down.

(I was surprised to see it had a glossy cover, setting it apart from the trademark look of NYRB Classics. I've since learned he's the only author to have this treatment (and also usually with last name only) because "the series editor wanted a "none more black" feeling for those covers.")

The Strangers in the House, by Georges Simenon, is indeed bleak and psychological and fascinating. The language is deeply evocative, the setting is oppressive, the story is surprising. Throughout, Simenon is the perfect host, full of charm and always in control. No character is minor. It strikes me as, if I may, very French.

Rossigart was no doubt at that moment telephoning to Mme Dossin and the latter was no doubt reclining on a sofa draped in muslins that were probably mauve. She'd be looking distinguished of course. Looking distinguished and being in delicate health combined to provide her with a full-time occupation, leaving her perhaps just sufficient energy to arrange a few flowers in a vase.

(There's a lot in this book that reminds me of Fred Vargas: the charm, the philosophizing, the wry observations, the character quirks.)

The story is this: Loursat is a lawyer who's pretty much stayed holed up in room, drinking, for the last 18 years, since his wife left him. One night he hears a noise, and it awakens something in him. It's not a noise he should be hearing in his house — it's a gunshot, it's a murder. So Loursat comes to learn about his daughter's goings-on, her crowd, and the secret life that persisted under his own roof.

What's beautiful is watching Loursat wake up from his drunken stupor, climb out of hole, and live again. He finds he has a reason to after all, and it may be as much to shake up this small town as it is out of love for his daughter.

My second Simenon arrived in yesterday's mail. I hope to save it for when I'm travelling next weekend, but I don't know if I can hold out that long.

1 comment:

Gregory McCormick said...

yes his maigret books are interesting but i do like some of this other works much more. i discovered his book `dirty snow`last year and was fascinated by it though there is nothing uplifting about any of these works! there are things about that book which still haunt me somewhat....

love your blog by the way and read it regularly. fellow montrealer book lover here (