‘Tropic Moon’ by Georges Simenon (1933) – 133 pages Translated from the French by Marc Romano
‘Tropic Moon’ takes place in deepest, darkest Africa in the French colony of Gabon in the 1920s. Gabon was a small colony along the west coast of Africa on the Equator and is now an independent country. About 85% of Gabon is jungle rainforest. The natives who lived there in the 1920s were unembarrassed to walk around totally naked. An estimate of the total number of white people who lived in the entire colony at that time was less than 500. The white people made no secret of the fact that they were there to exploit the natural resources and the natives of the area. The background of many of these white people was spurious. Why else would they be in hot, sticky, brutal Gabon?
The two main characters in ‘Tropic Moon’ are Joseph Timar, a young Frenchman who has just arrived in Gabon, and Adele, the woman who along with her husband runs the hotel where Timar stays in Gabon. Adele wears clinging dresses and no underwear and is a drinking and bed buddy with most of the men at the outpost. The story is told from the point of view of the young man. On his first night in Gabon, Timar wakes up to find Adele in his bed. Only later does Timar find out that she along with all the other French colonists in Gabon knew that Timar’s uncle was an influential politician in France. Adele asks Timar to obtain a special permit from his uncle to conduct a business operation in the Gabon jungle. Meanwhile Adele’s husband dies of a tropical disease, and Adele is involved in the murder of a local native.
Later there are scenes in the jungle where Timar is the only white man on a canoe propelled by twenty naked black men. They return to their native village where Timar and a bunch of other white men he meets up with have an orgy with the native women. Timar takes up with one of the native girls for a short time.
Are people really as bad as they are made out to be in these romans durs (‘hard novels’) of Georges Simenon? I am not sure. I suppose there is some misogyny in his viewpoint as the women tend to be made out to be especially immoral and deceitful. Part of Simenon’s autobiography is made up of stories of his mother’s cruelty. Apparently he was unloved by his mother. Later he made up for it, claiming he had sex with 10,000 women. There is some controversy as to whether or not Simenon collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, and he self-exiled himself to the United States for ten years. It appears that Georges Simenon was more interested in preserving his career as a writer during the Nazi years than in actually helping the Nazis.
I’m finding these psychological novels of Georges Simenon quite entertaining. ‘Tropic Moon’ does give a nasty, picturesque, and possibly realistic view of a colonial outpost. This is a strong antidote to any too rosy view of colonial life. I will continue to read more of these romans durs. However I am still not ready for the Inspector Maigrets just yet.