Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Life Support from Simenon

Arghh. Another month. I'm going to close up this blog shop (kiosk?) if I don't post at least once per calendar month. (And it would be hard to imagine setting the bar much lower.) At least while avoiding posting, I've managed to see a movie, read a few books, write a little, and sleep.

On a whim, I picked up a couple of Simenon's Maigret novels (in new elegant little Penguin editions) at the library. Simenon and I have had a thing going for a few years now, and I've read both Maigret and what he called his "romans durs" (hard novels), his non-Maigret, non-genre (called "psychological" by some) novels. Sometimes Simenon's novels lag, but generally, he is consistently vivid, dour, and entertaining.

Maigret novels are, I think, generally admired for their portrayal of Maigret and his odd interior, and they are also cited for their roiling view of a shady Paris (less admired for their mysteries and detecting). That said, I've read several set in different places, where place--country villages, along canals, on the coast--informs character and action in compelling ways. The coincidence of place and character might be a version of Ruskin's pathetic fallacy, but it works well, and Maigret himself succumbs to the recognition that place is influencing his detecting, approach, spirit, and so on. The two I read recently (I'm still reading the second) make a nice contrasting pair in this regard. My Friend Maigret is set on a sunny Mediterranean island off the coast of Provence, a dreamy place that charms Maigret -- though he still reveals its seedy underbelly. The other novel, Inspector Cadaver, is set in a dismal, muddy, foggy village overwhelmed by class distinctions, rumors, and death. In many ways, one Simenon novel feels like the next, but this versatility is something to admire, and place seems to refresh his imagination. (Of course, I say this having read maybe only 15 of his books out of 400, so maybe the other 385 become stale.)