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Posts Tagged ‘france’

Maigret at the Coroner’s (1949)
by Georges Simenon, translated by Frances Keene
173 pages
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

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Maigret finds himself on a tour of the USA, a guest of honour mostly meeting with other police officials and observing the way Americans conduct their police and justice work.  While he is in Tuscon, Arizona, he gets dumped off at a coroner’s inquest, and finds that the case captures his attention. Several men from the army base spend the night with one young woman, and in the morning she ends up being killed by a train, lying prone on the railroad tracks beside a highway.

There’s a big focus in this novel on the way things in the US are different from France, specifically in the American South-West.  Reading it more than fifty years after it was written, I found it more interesting not for what it says about that part of the US, but for how much I know it’s changed since then, even as an outside observer.  For example, it’s stated that in the US almost everyone is a member of a social club; obviously not true anymore. And the ubiquitous presence of Bromo Seltzer is odd, since that was apparently taken off the market sometime after this novel was written.  The Asian and black characters are also treated by the narrative in an odd way, sort of like exotic birds.

Unfortunately, the novel itself isn’t that strong. I found its main weakness to be that Maigret walks into the case partway through, and the book is half over before we find out if there is a body, and what might have happened to it.  There are also about five characters who are among the suspects who are all introduced together, and as they are all in the military and have similar generic names and few defining characteristics, they all blended together for me.  Information revealed in the last chapter didn’t have much impact, since I found the suspects were pretty much interchangeable. One of the weaker Simenon novels I’ve read.

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November

November (1969)
by Georges Simenon, translated by Jean Stewart
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
185 pages

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“Walking the streets, I have always been impressed by the thought that everybody one sees is the center of his own universe, and that his preoccupations loom larger than what is happening in the world around.” (pg 68)

In a house on the outskirts of Paris, a 21-year-old woman, the narrator, lives with her father, mother, and brother.  The mother has psychological problems and is an alcoholic who goes on a bender and then a self-imposed drying-out almost on schedule.  The father started in the military, but now has an office job handling paperwork in the secret service. The brother is two years younger than the sister and still a student, while the narrator herself, Laure, is a lab assistant in a Paris hospital.

The conflict occurs on two fronts – at home the family has employed a Spanish maid, and though the narrator’s brother has started up an affair with her, the father also begins to desire the maid, seeing her in hotel rooms on her days off.  This creates tension with all the rest of the people in the household, except for the maid herself, who lives in her own carefree bubble in the otherwise tense and gloomy home. At work, Laure has started up an affair with the much older professor overseeing her section, a relationship she seems to prefer over seeing someone her own age with whom she may have a future.

There is a small mystery tacked on near the end of the novel, when the maid disappears and the reader is left to wonder at several different things that may have become of her.  But the main emphasis is on the psychological pressures everyone is under, the way that “family life is not what we are given to believe” (pg.116), and the isolation that can occur even between people that interact face-to-face every day.

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Maigret and the Bum (1962)
by Georges Simenon
translated by Jean Stewart
Popular Library
192 pages

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Maigret investigates the case of a homeless man who is brutally beaten and nearly killed in Paris. The question that keeps troubling him is why a person would want to hurt one of the down-and-out, who have nothing and are generally powerless. The story takes a few twists and turns, and the conclusion is both a bit of a surprise and totally appropriate to the story.

Maigret Statue, in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, where the first Maigret novel was written.

One of the themes that Simenon touches on repeatedly is the way that Maigret identifies with the world of the homeless people who have either been rejected by society or, like the victim in this case, have rejected society themselves. Though Maigret cannot speak it aloud to the others he works with in the police department, he has enough insight to see that the government justice system is not true justice, and that there are people in this world who don’t care a whit for the legal system society has put in place, no matter what it prohibits or what rewards it might offer.

A smooth and quick read, excellent for a time when I was feeling a bit bogged down by much larger books.

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