‘Tropic Moon’ by Georges Simenon

 

‘Tropic Moon’ by Georges Simenon   (1933) – 133 pages     Translated from the French by Marc Romano

 

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‘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.

9781590171110Are 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.

 

Grade:   A- 

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Simenon’s non-Maigret novels are certainly much harder and very dark in places from the few I’ve read. I like Maigret very much but I’m not sure how many of his other titles I could take – especially as he was so prolific!

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  2. I’d like to read a few more of Simenon’s Romans durs in the future. (The Maigrets are useful as wind-down reads every now and again, but the hard novels are where it’s at.) I still have a couple on the unread shelves but will keep this in mind for the future, especially as the setting/context is different here.

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    • Hi Jacqui,
      Have you read Francois Mauriac? He is still my favorite of twentieth century French writers. I read his novels a long time ago so haven’t blogged about him. Most critics believe his greatest works were his ‘unregenerate’ novels which he wrote before converting to Christianity, and I agree. Of the titles, I remember ‘The Knot of Vipers’ ‘Therese Desqueyroux’, ‘The Kiss of the Leper’.

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  3. I too want to read more of the Romans Durs. This one is rather different to most in its setting it seems.

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  4. Your points on his treatment of women are well made. I do want to read some of his Romans Dur, but not perhaps this one which seems perhaps not the best.

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    • Hi Max,
      Simenon does give an interesting picture in ‘Tropical Moon’ of colonialism by show how brutal and corrupt it was. Reading Graham Greene, you would think the colonial era was just great fun.

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