The author of the naked man always wrote unadorned
Paris, Montparnasse, 1922 Georges Sim, alias Christian Brulls, Georges Martin Georges, Kim or Germand'Antibes, writes seven short stories a day for the readers of Frou-Frou, Paris-Plaisirs or Le Matin, where Colette holds sway as editor-in-chief. She tells him, "I read your last story... It's nearly there, but not quite... too literary. Don't make literature. No literature, and it will work."
It was in the telling of implacable destinies and inextricable psychological intrigues that Simenon forged his pen, penetrating, in more than 1,000 stories(!) and 400 detective novels and adventures, into human nature and its motivations.
From serial writer, he became a reporter, even investigator, when he recovered for Paris-Soir a part of the Stavisky jewels. The little Belgian interviewed Trotsky on the Ile aux Princes, in Berlin, in the same hotel where Hitler stayed before the Reichstag fire. But it was not celebrities that interested him. What he wanted was to understand the little people, those who sustain the diverse columns of the daily papers. To describe them he used simple words, outlawed beautiful sentences and adjectives that flattered the ear. Faithful to the advice of Colette, he cut and recut his text, thanks to the marvelous safeguard that he had created for himself: Inspector Maigret. A surly man, a peaceful old guy close to retirement, but one who can pierce a man with just a look. Understanding, sometimes indulgent, Maigret tracks his suspect with an additional weapon: the faculty to get into his space and to foresee all, after having understood everything of the psychic working of his "client". By dint of anecdotes on his tobacco, sandwiches and the beer of the Brasserie Dauphine (that is, the tabac Henri IV, to read our report from Paris), or conversations with Doctor Pardon, the investigation constructs itself all alone. Maigret meditates, ruminates with his pipe and kneads his intuitions, but is never mistaken. Except once. In "Maigret's Mistake". His system is practically infallible: intuition, observation and respectability. The commissioner is indeed a man above all suspicion; even driven to the edge by a little pest who accuses him ("Maigret on the defensive"), the famous Chief Inspector maintains his composure and his implacable logic.
After the creation of Maigret, in 1929, Simenon wrote at the staggering rhythm of a novel per month a chapter per day (written from 6:00 in the morning till noon), for seven or eight days, then three or four days of rest and as much for all the revision. The remainder was dedicated to other books, adventures, atmospheric novels like Le Chien jaune, or the excellent Burgmestre de Furnes. The Maigrets, he called "semi-literary" novels. Later would come the "romans durs", the "hard" novels.
Like the mist of the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir or the rain of the Quai des Orfèvres, the atmosphere of these novels is that of the everyday. Simenon had the genius of evocation to such a point that he could describe the picturesque town of Furnes as if we were in it, whereas he himself had never set foot there! He plunges us into moral conflicts, so squalid that his characters are without illusion, delivered inevitably to the inescapable fatality of the irreversible false step. The curious sequence of events, the reminiscence of an apparently insignificant element is never the fruit of pure luck, but rather the infallible scheme of destiny.
In the 40s, his physician told him that he had only two years to live. This slave to writing then thew himself into the writing of his literary "will" Je Souviens (I Remember), the story of Roger Mamelin, alias George Simenon the kid, a biography for the use of his eldest son Marc (the director). It was André Gide, Nobel prize for literature, who advised him to transform the text into a novel in the third person, published in 1948 under the title Pedigree. But the successful author was not truly recognized as a master until Gide baptized him as "our Balzac". The author of "Symphonie Pastorale" found in Simenon the raw novelist that he himself could never be. He admired this untiring inventor of investigations, whose starting point was always a yellow envelope, on which Simenon doodled in pencil the names and traits of all his characters. In spite of his immense production, "Sim" didn't form a school he was a popular, prolific and solitary writer. He transformed his work radically, moving progressively towards realism, where the only fiction could be the author's life. We find there one of the features of the masterly work of his good friend and other "monster" of literature, Henry Miller.
In 1972, the master decided to write fiction no more, with over 400 novels to his name, translated into over 100 languages, and representing a good half billion copies! He put away his typewriter, bequeathed all his books to the University of Liège, and shut himself away with his companion and secretary. But the demon of writing hadn't left him: he dictated into a tape recorder his Intimate Memoirs and 21 volumes of his Dictations, in what could be called a systematic outpouring. Eight days after the release of Intimate Memoirs (dedicated to his daughter, Marie-Jo), the book was withdrawn from sale and two passages removed. Simenon had accused his ex-wife of responsibility for their daughter's suicide.
"The man with the pipe" always said that he had been pushed into writing by an irresistible need to express himself. His method was that of the craftsman, his inspiration, that of a genius.
translation: Stephen Trussel
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