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Ciné-Revue   (N°21)
May 24, 1957, p 33

 

An exclusive article by

Georges Simenon

original French

"My old friend Gabin will be the truest Maigret..."


One doesn't introduce Georges Simenon. Everyone has read something by him. He is the most prolific author in the world, the most translated, the most read. His books have been most adapted to the screen — because no other novelist can match his ability to create an atmosphere. It is for all these reasons that we can speak of the "Simenon phenomenon." The notes below that he tossed off for the readers of Ciné-Revue will illuminate his personality, whose best feature is perhaps his good spirit, his savoir-vivre (in the sense of knowing how to accept life) that he owes, if one can take him at his word, to his native city.

 

I prefer to write rather than to speak, because I know that my voice is a little loud. I realized it when I thought about my own children's voices. I understood what torment people had to endure to listen to me, because my children assault my ears. And everyone says they have the same kind of voice as I have...

ONLY ONE OF MY TWO SONS HAS READ ME

Speaking of my children, I have, unfortunately, only three. I would have liked twelve. The eldest is eighteen. He is about to prepare for his bac. I don't know if he will pass. What interests him is biological research and natural science. He is especially fascinated by snakes. Literature doesn't attract him at all, not in the least. He never reads. It is impossible to make him read. He has never read even one of my novels, not one line of mine. It doesn't interest him. Every year, for Christmas, he asked for snakes. As we lived in the United States, we sent telegrams to South Africa, to Miami, to anywhere one could find rare snakes. He had a zoo that numbered some eighty snakes and about a hundred turtles of all types.

I've wondered why he hasn't read any of my novels. Some psychologists told me that it was due to a fear of being disappointed. He truly has a lot of love for me, and in fact we are two great friends, he and I. I have the impression that if he had to say to himself that he didn't like what I wrote, he would feel awfully constrained around me. And that could easily happen. Perspective varies so much from one generation to the other.

All his friends read me. They come to look for my books at home. But he never asks me for one. My second son, who is eight years old, is completely different. He is not just content to devour my books, but when he finds a manuscript on a table, he seizes it and immerses himself in his reading. I always ask him what he thinks. As for my youngest, she is only four years old — she doesn't read yet.

TO DESCRIBE A GLASS OF BEER WELL, YOU HAVE TO DROOL OVER IT

Now, I live in France. Friends have asked me why it was that it was from the United States that I had best described Paris. Distance is absolutely necessary for writing, sometimes even a very great distance. Nearly all the novels that I wrote in America took place in Paris, or in any case in France. In the end, the reason is very simple. You can experience it yourself. Go to the Champs-Elysées, look around you, and try to describe it. I challenge you. The details that you have before your eyes are not the striking ones — they form a disjointed mass. The truly striking details you will only find after having forgotten all the others, in that place in memory where one stores impressions. For that, distance is necessary.

You are in Equatorial Africa or in South America and you think about the terrace of Fouquet's or someplace like that. You think of it with nostalgia and the words "a glass of beer" take on for you a value that you cannot imagine, because it is nearly impossible to find a glass of beer in Libreville or to Port-Gentil. You are going to describe this glass of beer from then on to make people's mouths water, since your own mouth is watering as you're thinking of it.

FRAGRANCES AWAKEN THE MEMORY BEST

I believe that in the question of ambiance, odor is primary. I am very sensitive to odors and I almost always start with a scent when I must write a novel. I tell myself, for example, that I must begin a novel in two days. I eliminate around me everything that could be an interruption during the length of my work. My wife checks on whether I have any important appointments. I answer her, "No, nothing. From the day after tomorrow, I will go into seclusion." Then I go for a walk, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for five. I walk in the countryside and, all of a sudden, an odor hits me. Perhaps I pass near a blackberry bush if it is summer, close to a bunch of lilacs if it is springtime, and suddenly, a fragrance brings up a memory that is twenty years old maybe, sometimes more, possibly a memory from childhood. And this memory brings pictures, and these pictures bring people. I review the village or the city where I breathed this same odor of lilac or blackberry or whatever — it is sufficient to place the characters there, and when one has characters, it is necessary to find the trigger that will push them to their limits.

WE HAVE IN US ALL THE PASSIONS OF THE WORLD

I'm not the one who invented this definition of the novel, I hasten to say. When Balzac was asked what a character of a novel was, he answered: "It is anyone, but pushed to his limits." We have within us all the passions of the world, all the instincts, all possibilities. For different reasons — education, weakness, fear of policemen, etc. — we don't dare to give them free rein. But then an event occurs that obliges us to go to the ends of ourselves and we will become either heroes or scoundrels. It is enough to take characters that one feels comfortable with then, to get into their skin and to throw them into the middle of certain situations — a death in the family, an inheritance, an accident — any event that will all of a sudden shake up their lives.

I must have written between one hundred sixty-five and one hundred sixty-eight novels. I don't know precisely. It is my wife who does all this up-to-date accounting and answers journalists in general. In fact, I'll make you a confession: Usually, it is my wife who gives my interviews. She knows all my business much better than I do, since she's the one who occupies herself with it. She rigorously takes care of everything, whether about literature or movies. I don't have a secretary, but she does. I don't even answer the phone — it is my wife who is in charge; it is she who makes all the appointments, she who takes care of everything...

THE TRUE MAIGRET: MY OLD FRIEND GABIN

Presently, forty-eight movies have been inspired of my novels. To these we should add the seven for this year, making fifty-five. (I hope my wife doesn't correct me.) Among the latest, there is "En cas de malheur" with Jean Gabin and Brigitte Bardot, and "Striptease" that Clouzot is going to direct. This is not a film drawn from of one of my novels — I wrote an original script for Clouzot. I couldn't do it from some novel, because that is impossible — one thinks screenplay or one thinks novel. I am incapable of writing on demand. It is absolutely necessary that I feel a topic, and I can't even imagine being able to do a topic that I have already treated in another format.

One thing fascinates me at the moment. My old friend Jean Gabin, who has done some of "my" movies, films in which I did not participate (they were merely taken from my novels) — my old friend Gabin is going to interpret the character of Maigret. He has signed for three Maigret flims — two will be done this year, one beginning next month. It will be his eighth "Simenon." I believe that Jean Gabin will be nearest to Maigret, to the idea that the public has of Maigret and, in any case, to the idea that I myself have of him.

THE BEST LEGACY OF MY YOUTH: THE GOOD LIEGEOISE SPIRIT

I live in France, but I am faithful to Belgium. I was born in the heart of Liège, in a district that is called Outre-Meuse. I feel a great tenderness for my native city. Of my own books, one of my favorites is called "Pédigrée," a kind of song in gesture to the little people of Liège, especially the craftsmen. These are people who do the best they can. In Liège, there are still a lot people who work at home.

It is because I always feel Liégeois that I have saved this story of Liège for last. It is in the evening, in a small dark street. There is only one lit window, that of a small café as one finds so often in Liège, with cream-colored curtains which filter the light. At a given moment, the door opens. We see two men who support a third between them to the middle of the street. They throw him his hat and his cane and the door closes again violently. In the middle of the street, in a puddle, the man stands up laboriously. He picks up his cane, takes his hat, marches staggeringly toward the closed door, pushes it open and cries out, "See you Saturday, my friends!" It gives well enough, I believe, an idea of the simple good-heartedness and spirit of Liège. The one that makes me feel Liégeois wherever I am...


[Georges Simenon
Cannes 1957]

translated by Stephen Trussel


M. and Mme Simenon and the two youngest of their three children.


Some of the 55 films in the "Simenon atmosphere"


« La Neige était sale »,
with Daniel Gélin and Vera Norman.

« La Marie du Port »,
with Jean Gabin and Nicole Courcel.

« Panique »,
with Michel Simon and Viviane Romance.

« L'Homme de la Tour Eiffel »,
with Franchot Tone and Charles Laughton.

« Le Voyageur de la Toussaint »,
with Jules Berry and Jean Desailly.

« L'Homme qui regardai passer les Trains »,
with Claude Rains and Maria Toren.

« Le Fruit Défendu »,
with Fernandel and Françoise Arnoul.

« Le Fond de la Bouteille »,
with Van Johnson and Joseph Cotton.


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