Posts Tagged ‘Georges Simenon’

‘Act of Passion’ by Georges Simenon – The Repulsive Doctor

 

‘Act of Passion’ by Georges Simenon (1947) – 217 pages Translated from the French by Louise Varese

‘Act of Passion’ is written from the point of view of a younger middle-aged man, a doctor, on trial for the murder of his young lover. It is an admission of guilt, and it is quintessential Georges Simenon but even more nasty and vile than most.  .

Simenon is psychologically astute on how the humans in his stories misbehave.

They can behave terribly yet we perfectly understand them and their reasons for doing so.

Although several characters in the previous novels of Georges Simenon which I have read have been abhorrent, the doctor Charles Alavoine who first-person narrates ‘Act of Passion’ is by far the most repulsive Simenon character of all. He beats up his young lover Martine with whom he is having an affair on the side, and he gives as his justification that he wants to beat the bad out of her and return her to her innocent girlhood. Ultimately he murders her by beating and the novel is the account he gives after his trial.

I suppose Simenon’s reason for writing a novel about this evil doctor is that such men do exist and this is real, but I am not sure that is sufficient. It is too honest and squalid to be uplifting.

The doctor’s wife Armande is too perfect in everything she does. “Do you realize how discouraging that can be? It is like being married to your schoolmistress.” He feels the need of deceiving her as sordidly as possible, so he finds Martine who is a big young blonde with a vulgar smile. Martine is a professional, has been with a number of men.

The doctor’s affair with Martine continues. He claims he loves Martine but wants to return her to her innocent girlhood state by beating the bad out of her.

I was not ashamed. I was no longer ashamed of my outbursts, my fits of violence, because I knew now that they were a part of our love, that our love, just as it was, just as we wanted it to be, could not have existed without them.”

Ultimately he beats her up so hard she dies. His wife Armande testifies in his defense at her trial.

I must admit that I was repulsed by this doctor and this novel. Perhaps the novel is a study in how men, even doctors, can become violent with their wives or girlfriends and thus the story is worthwhile, However this guy’s justifications for his murderous behavior sickened me

I can usually separate my reactions to a horrible and violent story about wicked people from my judgment of its literary quality, but this time I can’t. This is sordid.

 

Grade :    B-

 

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‘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

 

 

‘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- 

‘The Widow’ by Georges Simenon – Tacky People, Terrible Acts

‘The Widow’ by Georges Simenon (1942) – 152 pages    Translated from the French by John Petrie

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‘The Widow’ is a tough little French psychological novella, one of which George Simenon called his “romans durs”. This is noir fiction with a hard-on, not a detective story, but rather a story about some nasty people in the French countryside.

The refrain of ‘The Widow’, a sentence that is used repeatedly in the novella, is “Every person condemned to death shall be decapitated.”

First, I will describe the opening of the story which sets the stage for the later awful events.

A young man named Jean walking in St. Armand near Paris gets on a red bus, standing room only. Since the bus is going to Montlucon, he will go there. The widow Tati Corderc, a farm lady, is also on the bus bringing home an incubator for raising young chickens on the farm. The widow is aged forty-five, “short and broad, rather plump”. She makes eye contact with Jean on the bus and sizes him up immediately. She gets off the bus, and Jean gets off at the next stop, walks back, and helps her carry the incubator.
As they return to the widow’s farm, she notices her niece Felicie walking away from the widow’s house with some ham from off the widow’s table.

“She’s a little slut. That’s what she is! Sixteen years old and got herself a baby already.”

The widow hires Jean as a farm hand. Soon she brings Jean up to her bed, but tells him she must also sleep with her old tomcat of a father-in-law in order to not get thrown off the farm.

Although now Jean is sleeping with the widow, soon he starts watching out for the slutty niece Felicie, much to the widow’s distress.

51uPOhPD+dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jean is not just any young man out of nowhere; he has his own back story. He just got out of prison after spending five years in there for murder.

So we have here a volatile situation to say the least.

From what I have read about Georges Simenon, he was pretty much a tomcat himself. He knows the territory.

If, like I do, you like to read wicked stuff about nasty people, you probably will like ‘The Widow’ a lot.

Thanks to JacquiWine for bringing this raunchy little novella to my attention.

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Grade: B+

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