I've read a few novels by Georges Simenon but only one Maigret mystery. I've picked up his 1940 mystery, Maigret in Holland, which is doing double duty for me since it will count as one of my vintage mystery choices and with its Dutch setting will fit in nicely with the rest of my "Netherlands" reading as well.
Simenon was an interesting man, not least because he was very prolific. I think he wrote close to two hundred books during his lifetime and he was a fast writer (though with such an output he would have to be, wouldn't he?) and well regarded. The TLS had an interesting article on him last May. He "wrote extremely quickly, disliked 'literature' and had a voluptuous interest in both fame and money, was admired by, among others: Gide, Cocteau, Céline, Anouilh, Colette, Mauriac, Somerset Maugham, Thornton Wilder, T. S. Eliot, Henry Miller and John Cowper Powys." I'd say that's a pretty respectable fan base. Apparently it was thanks to a combination of qualities that helped create his success and notoriety.
"His admirable positives: swiftness of creation; swiftness of effect; clearly demarcated personal territory; intense atmosphere and resonant detail; knowledge of, and sympathy with, les petites gens; moral ambiguity; a usually baffling plot with a usually satisfactory denouement. As for his enviable negatives: Simenon got away with a very restricted and therefore very repetitive vocabulary (about 2,000 words, by his own estimation) – he didn’t want any reader to have to pause over a word, let alone reach for the dictionary. He kept his books very short, able to be read in one sitting, or (often) journey: none risks outstaying its welcome. He eschews all rhetorical effect – there is rarely more than one simile per book, and no metaphors, let alone anything approaching a symbol. There is text, but no subtext; there is plot but no subplot – or rather, what appears to be possible subplot usually ends up being part of the main plot. There are no literary or cultural allusions, and minimal reference to what is going on in the wider world of French politics, let alone the international arena. There is also – both admirable positive and enviable negative – no authorial presence, no authorial judgement, and no obvious moral signposts. Which helps make Simenon’s fiction remarkably like life."
In other words his books are entirely gulpable, entertaining. As for the cultural allusions, I'm not so sure about that reference. The novels may be slim, but they certainly do reflect something of the time and place while there is perhaps no grand statement about societal ills, I think the reader can still take something away from his stories.
I'm only a few chapters in (and I do hope to easily finish this by the end of the week--I am actually finding it a very engaging...and yes, gulpable...story so far), but I am forming quite a picture in my mind of the little town of Delfzijl, where a French citizen is being held for questioning in the death of a local man. Inspector Maigret is in this extreme northeast town of the Netherlands in only a semiofficial capacity. It's actually Maigret's impression of Delfzijl which is the teaser I want to share.
"Right from the start, he found Delfzijl disconcerting. At dawn he had found himself rolling through the traditional Holland of tulips. Then came Amsterdam, which he already knew. But Drenthe, an endless stretch of heather, had taken him by surprise. A twenty-mile horizon sectioned by canals."
"And what he now came to was something that bore no relation to the ordinary picture postcard of Holland. It was far more Nordic than anything he imagined."
"A small town. At the most, ten or fifteen streets paved with beautiful red tiles, as regularly laid as those of a kitchen floor. Low houses of brick, ornamented with a profusion of carved woodwork painted in cheerful colors."
"The whole place was like a toy, all the more so because it was completely encircled by a dike. In this dike were openings with heavy lock gates, which were no doubt closed during spring tides."
"Beyond was the estuary of the Ems River, and then the North Sea, a long silver ribbon of water. Ships were unloading their cargoes under the cranes on the quay. In the canals were innumerable sailing boats, big as barges and as heavy, built to withstand the open seas."
Perhaps Cath will be able to tell us whether it is indeed and accurate reckoning of the town. I wonder why Maigret finds it disconcerting? Perhaps it doesn't match his image of what it should be like? The beauty of books like this is getting an image of a place and the people and this is all the more interesting since it is filtered through the eyes and perceptions of a Frenchman. It's curious that so far there is no mention of the war, though the book was published in 1940 and Rotterdam was only bombed in May of 1940 with the Dutch army surrendering shortly thereafter. And as the TLS article noted that Simenon kept mum about politics in his books, so maybe not surprising after all.
August is flying by and I have several books underway for my Reading Netherlands summer project. I think I might devote the majority of my reading time to these books, though a few other books will need some attention as well. Don't be surprised if you hear more about my reading in the next couple of weeks. I'd say a class trip to The Netherlands would be in order next, but it may have to be virtual only. Someday I will get there, however. And my reading of Dutch authors will continue for the rest of the year.