'The most boring part': why the killer didn't matter to Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon, Crime Fiction, Thrillers, Fiction

'The most boring part': why the killer didn't matter to Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon, Crime Fiction

2/19/2020

'The most boring part': why the killer didn't matter to Georges Simenon

Identifying the murderer in Maigret and the Man on the Bench is of scant concern to a writer preoccupied with deeper secrets

It isn’t normal to begin reviews of detective novels by discussing their last chapter. But Maigret and the Man on the Bench is not a normal detective novel – and its conclusion is so striking that it demands immediate attention. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that in just 10 pages in David Watson’s (excellent) translation, Maigret discovers the identity of the murderer of Louis Thouret, the eponymous man on the bench. This murderer has barely been mentioned before in the novel, and Maigret doesn’t care about his identity. “This was the most boring part,” he reflects as he is writing up the case. Just six lines later, the book ends. It’s possible to view this dashed-off ending as evidence that Simenon didn’t care either. The book was written in the early 1950s, when the author was allotting himself just 11 days to complete a Maigret novel. His heart – as he revealed in a 1955 interview with the Paris Review – was not with his beloved Parisian detective, but in the more serious romans durs he was writing concurrently. Commercial artworks, he complained, were too formulaic: You can’t write anything commercial without accepting some code. There is always a code – like the code in Hollywood, and in television and radio. For example, there is now a very good programme on television, it is probably the best for plays. The first two acts are always first class. You have the impression of something completely new and strong, and then at the end the concession comes. Not always a happy end, but something comes to arrange everything from the point of view of a morality or philosophy – you know. All the characters, who were beautifully done, change completely in the last 10 minutes.” If you regard the apprehending of a killer by the police as a concession to morality, you could easily argue that Simenon was castigating himself. There’s also a vein of ironic self-deprecation in Maigret and the Man on the Bench. When a character is found to be an avid reader, we are told, his shelf only contains “two or three detective stories: he can’t have been enamoured of the latter, as he hadn’t bought any more”. Yet while Simenon may not have taken his detective books as seriously as bleak masterpieces such as The Snow Was Dirty, that doesn’t mean that we should underestimate Maigret and the Man on the Bench. That final chapter may well have taken Simenon less time to write than it took me to read, but there’s also something about its rushed and heedless nature that works, the false note that rings in your ears long after the music fades. It’s also an ideal fit for the state of mind of the novel’s protagonist. Maigret doesn’t really care who has murdered Louis Thouret. He regards the killer as inconsequential and unpleasant. The criminal is one of those nasty facts of life that can’t be avoided, but shouldn’t be allowed to take over too much headspace. Maigret doesn’t want to waste time on him – so why should we? Besides, the real interest isn’t in the conventional detective narrative surrounding a murderer and their victim. It’s in working out how this particular victim came to be in a position that resulted in his death. Why was Thouret found wearing fancy brown “goose poo shoes” when his wife said he left the house wearing black ones? Was there something she didn’t know? Of course there was – and in working out what that may have been, Simenon takes us deep into the life of a disappointed man. We can intuit all kinds of emotional details about Thouret in the descriptions of his home, his old colleagues, the places he has been choosing to spend his time, the clothes he wears and when he wears them. Simenon tried to explain how he did it in that same Paris Review interview where he was so disparaging of commercial art: I try to do with prose, with the novel, what generally is done with poetry. I mean I try to go beyond the real, and the explainable ideas, and to explore the man – not doing it by the sound of the words as the poetical novels of the beginning of the century tried to do. I can’t explain technically but – I try to put in my novels some things which you can’t explain, to give some message which does not exist practically … ” It’s this hovering around the edge of the intangible that gives Maigret and the Man on the Bench its power. We get the sense we are approaching the biggest and most inscrutable mystery of them all: the workings of someone else’s mind. Compared to that, the sordid details of a killing seem almost immaterial. And if that also leads the book to have a strange and sudden ending, so be it. Topics Read more: The Guardian

luanadickins 8((((( Faulkner said Simenon reminded him of Chekhov and that chimes. Lives buckle under the weight of having to be lived, like masseuse Angele in Maigret’s Madwoman, still pounding rich men’s flesh at 56, her rootless son wasting his life, her small-time boyfriend a “pretend” gangster.

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