Forum / Paris and the Balm of Maigret

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    Nov 16, 10:28pm

    Paris has seen much blood flow in its days, last Friday's massacres being only the latest instance.

    I've been to Paris only once, four years ago. Visitors to Paris are no more anxious to have or to see blood coursing through gutters or sticking to kerbs than to note the history of bloodletting that has afflicted the city at infrequent points of its history. Commonly, visitors prefer not to dwell on tragedies of blood because this city continues decade after decade, century upon century, to invite liveliness and life. Parisians themselves, we may guess, prefer not to dwell on tragic or sordid episodes from tragic history, though they may carry living memories of those tragedies from birth.

    Nostalgia is often a name for unreliable or undependable memory. And so perhaps possibly maybe, a happy medium, an acceptable medium, for finding some perspective for Friday's events can be found in the Maigret novellas of Georges Simenon, which are all coming out in fresh translations courtesy of Penguin.

    Many of the early titles in Simenon's Maigret series take place outside of Paris (some even take Detective Inspector Maigret outside of France altogether): but the ones chiefly set in Paris, or the ones that feature any Paris locales, do us the service of reminding us in 2015 of the Paris of the final decade of the Third Republic, the final inhalations and exhalations of the city between the two great wars that both robbed it of much domestic tranquility.

    Detective Inspector Maigret is commonly investigating murders, Simenon's concession to the realities of Paris's history. Maigret's cases are set in the days shared with Jean Vigo's Atalante and Renoir's Rules of the Game and with the last flourish of the rue Chaptal's Grand-Guignol theatre: days not unambiguously joyous or happy or rewarding or terrifying, days only capable of joy or happiness or scant scarce reward or vexing terror.

    Maigret's patient plodding inquiries, his judicious temperament with measuring people, and his appetite for food and drink and tobacco are themselves signs of the life of Paris, as the detective inspector investigates a Parisian murder or a Parisian suicide. Taking Maigret's homicides and suicides one by one preserves us from the spectacle of contemplating dozens and scores at a time, scores or hundreds or thousands in matters of days. Simenon's Maigret novellas don't make homicide or suicide natural or acceptable, only explicable because they are human events, with human perpetrators, human victims.

    I'm finishing Lock No. 1, the latest in the Penguin series, set largely in Charenton, just outside the southeast bounds of the city along the Seine. Two murders and an attempted murder so far, forty or fifty pages to go. I had barely started reading when the news broke Friday. I've wondered off and on since how Maigret could deal or would deal with the events of Friday, I cannot begin to imagine how Simenon would've put his creature to work. I'm not finding or expecting consolation or explanation: I do find relief, though, and I do see the possibility of seeing even a few of the human dimensions in a horrific massacre.

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    Mathew Paust
    Nov 16, 10:51pm

    It's been many many...many moons since I read any Simenon. Now just might be a good time to revisit Inspector Maigret's domain. Good to see Penguin bringing them out on Kindle, too. Thanks for reminder and the well-writ backgrounder.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Nov 23, 10:33am

    Your reviews always make me want to run out and get the book. (Even when there is no such book.)

  • Photo_00020.thumb
    Nov 23, 02:26pm

    Thanks to Mathew and to Frankie: to Mathew for pointing out what I did not know (that the new Penguin series of Maigret titles is appearing on Kindle), to Frankie for enthusiastically reviewing a review (or two: the parenthetic allusion is to , where other kind comments of Frankie's and Mathew's, et al.'s, can helpfully be found).

    Mea culpa: anyone posting in this Forum knows that editorial regret can ensue once you've posted here, since Forum posts cannot then be edited (if someone knows differently, please don't spare my ignorance). Permit me to clarify that forty or fifty pages from the end of Simenon's Lock No. 1, a grand total of one suicide and one homicide have occurred, along with what's seen as the attempted murder: while I am accustomed to viewing suicide as "self-murder", I would not want Simenon's readers to blame any error in his narrative on yours truly. (But no, I won't say what occurs in those final forty or fifty pages.)

    Now that I'm here, I would further remind readers of two other Simenon series in print: NYRB has come out with ten or twelve of Simenon's roman durs, non-Maigret titles as riveting as any of the Maigret novellas, and the Neversink Library has at least two other non-Maigret titles.

    I've just started the Penguin ed. of Simenon's Mr. Hire's Engagement (the 1990s film version, Monsieur Hire, was compelling when I saw it in the 1990s). I can't think that any reader (or writer) would waste any time spent with any Simenon title: I've read almost thirty, and while readers of strannikov could well observe that consulting Simenon may not in fact have helped yours truly, strannikov assures readers that reading Simenon does not in fact hurt.

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    David Ackley
    Nov 23, 02:29pm

    Hi Frankie,

    Seeing your name here provoked me to go to your blog where I read and was totally sucked-in by, "Listen to your Heart," so I am diverting this occasion to recommend it to all your fellow fictionauters and anybody else out there in the ether who can still read.

    "Listen to your Heart," can be found at Frankie's Blog:



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    Charlotte Hamrick
    Nov 23, 03:08pm

    Frankie does remarkable writing on her blog.

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