Georges Simenon

Post image for Georges Simenon

14 November, 2016

“He hadn’t been there when Mary Lampson’s body had been found, but this new discovery was, if anything, even more grim because, as an effect of this recurrence of crime, a feeling of almost mystical anguish now hung over this stretch of the canal.”
George’s Simenon, The Carter of ‘La Providence’, chapter five.

I tried to read Simenon in my twenties, when I was living in Heidelberg. I believe I even started reading The Carter of ‘La Providence’ in French at some point, but I laid the book aside after a few chapters. Like the other Maigret stories I had attempted, I found it unbearably dismal and consequently quite unreadable.

Whether rich or poor, old or young, healthy or infirm, French or foreign, Simenon’s characters are driven by huge passions that overtake them and dictate the entire future course of their lives. These passions are not exclusively romantic or sexual: Simenon’s figures are driven by fear, envy, greed, narcissism, disappointment, opportunism and a whole range of base emotions. Many of these go back to childhood experiences of persecution, exclusion and deprivation. Time and again, some unholy mess involving murder is actually driven by an unholy emotional mess that occurred in a completely different context, often decades previously.

In this, Simenon is a terrific realist: whatever milieu in which they operate, Simenon’s murderers inhabit the tristesse of their own hearts, and it is this sadness that turns any context into a misery: in the case of the foregoing quote, the emotional anguish of the murderer and his victims is so great that it seeps out and is absorbed up into the sky. This is writing of the very first order – both completely realistic and deeply poetic at the same time.

Although Simenon deliberately eschews the subjects of religion and politics, the whole world he describes is a Golgotha, personalised for the souls of the individuals to whom he gives his attention.


Photograph: Georges Simenon, photographed in 1963 by Erling Mandelmann.

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