‘Dirty Snow’ by Georges Simenon – Not Only the Snow was Dirty

 

‘Dirty Snow’ by Georges Simenon   (1946) –  244 pages                                                      Translated from the French by Marc Romano and Louise Varese

The young man Frank Friedmaier in ‘Dirty Snow’ is one of the most vile and amoral characters you will find in any novel.  Frank has a very German name but he lives in Brussels, Belgium because the political boundaries in Europe do not match the ethnic boundaries.  The novel takes place during the German occupation of Belgium in World War II.

Frank’s mother Lotte runs a brothel in their apartment mainly for the German occupiers.  She gets her girls young and innocent when they are only sixteen or seventeen because that’s the way the men like them, and she gets rid of them when they are eighteen so the men don’t get bored. Frank starts the process by dating the innocent girl and corrupting her before bringing her back to the house to work for his mother.  Even as a teenager Frank was on the lookout for fresh young girls to work for his mother.  He would take the girl to a movie, have sex with her, and then ease her into his mother’s prostitution business.  There was always a need for Frank to get more girls.  Frank can have sex for free with any of the girls working in his apartment any time he wants.

Frank does not know who his father is but thinks it might be the police inspector who allows his mother’s business to operate.

Frank hangs out at the local bar which is where all the young thugs hang out.  Most of the guys there have murdered someone, so Frank decides to kill a guy for no other reason.  Later Frank also kills an old woman who had been nice to him as a child in connection with his stolen watch racket.

Frank is then noticed by the German authorities and locked up in a school that has been turned into a makeshift prison by the German occupiers, since the regular prison is already too crowded.   The German authorities couldn’t care less about Frank’s murders or any of his other crimes, but they wonder how he obtained a special pass that only the German occupiers were supposed to have.   Frank says of one his guards:

“He is the kind of man who would calmly beat people up on command feeling no hate as conscientiously as a clerk doing sums in an office.”   

‘Dirty Snow’ is a story of a very bad man living in malevolent times. It is one of Georges Simenon’s romans dur or “hard or tough novels”.  This is an honest novel about the sordid underside of life but it is compelling on its own terms.  It feeds our fascination with the seamy criminal element.

 

‘Dirty Snow’ is a headlong plunge into the dark side.

 

 

Grade :   A

 

 

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I have never any Simenon at all, this certainty sounds like a very dark story. Beautiful NYRB edition though.

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    • Hi Heavenall,
      Georges Simenon was an extremely prolific writer; he wrote 450 novels in all. There are detective novels with Inspector Maigret which are popular but which I have not read. But there are also 75 romans dur or ‘Hard Novels’ which are becoming more praised every day. They are usually quite short and usually deal with the gritty side of life. NYRB Classics have republished a number of them.

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  2. This one is definitely an ‘A’ – superbly gritty and nasty.

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  3. Posted by Howard Curtis on January 19, 2018 at 5:10 PM

    Firstly, I should point out that the book does not take place in Brussels during the German occupation of Belgium. It takes place in an unnamed city in an unnamed country. To make the story more universal, Simenon deliberately does not name the setting: he doesn’t even specify that the occupiers are German.

    Secondly, for purely personal reasons, I should like to point out that there is a more recent English version, translated by myself, entitled THE SNOW WAS DIRTY (published by Penguin), which readers might like to consider.

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    • Hi Howard Curtis,
      Thanks for stopping by. I actually prefer your title ‘The Snow was Dirty’ to the NYRB title. It gives me a better feel for the story. I was not aware that Penguin had their own new translation, and if I was aware I probably would have gone with yours. NYRB has a lot of the Simenon romans dur which I enjoy, so I did not look too hard for other versions.
      You are also right that nowhere does Simenon mention Brussels as the location. I picked that up from a review that seemed to know what they were talking about.
      Sorry, I wish I had known your version existed, because I probably would have gone with that one.

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  4. I actually have this, and in this edition rather than the Howard Curtis (which I’d have looked at otherwise since I recognise the name). It does indeed sound distinctly durs…

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  5. Just to add, while I probably would have got the Curtis if I were buying this now, that NYRB does have a great cover.

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    • Hi Max,
      Just from the two titles, the NYRB ‘Dirty Snow’ and the Penguin Howard Curtis ‘The Snow Was Dirty’, I probably would have gone with the Howard Curtis. Usually one doesn’t have two translated versions of a novel to choose from, except for classics like Tolstoy, Doestoyevsky, etc.

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  6. Posted by Howard Curtis on March 15, 2018 at 6:49 PM

    For the record, there have been several translations of this novel. The first American version, published in the early 50s, was called “The Snow was Black”. (The NYRB’s “Dirty Snow” is a revision of that early translation.) There was also a British translation from the same period called “The Stain on the Snow”.

    When I came to do my translation, I insisted (and the people at Penguin agreed with me) on translating the original French title literally. And I think I’m right in saying that of all the translations, mine is the first to faithfully observe Simenon’s use of tenses: the original switches frequently from past to present tense – indeed, about two thirds of the book is in the present tense, which makes a big difference.

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