Something's been killing me for 55 years. Today I discovered the culprit: it's my work. I'm no longer going to write for a living.
An event of world import: Georges Simenon, translated into 45 languages, has decided, on reaching the age of 70, after having produced 76 Maigrets and 204 other novels, and after having put his famous house up for sale, to write no more. Henri-Charles Tauxe has provided us this exclusive interview.
I will tell you how it happened. On September 20, 1972, I went down to my office in Epalinges for the last time. I wrote down the plan of a novel, as I always do, took up my yellow envelope, noted the names of my characters and their telephone numbers, and then I went back upstairs. The following day, I thought, looked at the walls, looked at the objects and pictures around me, and for the thirtieth time in my life, I felt foreign. Thirty times in my life, I have moved. It's a physical phenomenon. That same day, I asked my secretary for the name of the principal real estate broker in Lausanne and I phoned to put my Epalinges house on the market. Then I searched for an apartment to rent or buy in the city, found two which were connected, went to see them, and bought them, all within forty-eight hours. On October 27, I settled into this new domicile everything was arranged, curtains, lighting, etc. It is likely that when I put the Epalinges house up for sale, my intuition had already sensed another decision.
I made the decision to write no more novels. This is the first time I'm speaking of it. On my passport I am henceforth, "without profession." I have a horror of the phrase "man of letters." I am only a novelist and as I won't write any more novels...
Here is how it came about. Since November of 1971, I've suffered from occasional dizziness. It was very troublesome, and as I wanted to find out if it were curable, I entered a clinic. They were able to relieve this dizziness, reducing to five minutes what had previously lasted for about an hour. However, to write my novels I have to be in one hundred percent condition. Especially as my novels have become more and more difficult. And so I made the decision to stop. Maigret and M. Charles, written in February 1972, was my last novel. I believe that this decision was actually made when I disposed of my house.
For me it was a deliverance. I realized that for fifty-five years I have lived in the skin of my characters. Every two months or so, there were characters that wanted to be born... but now, with one stroke, I can live my own life. I've liberated myself. I feel happy, a perfect serenity. I'd become a slave to my characters, and it was very exhausting. Now I no longer allow them to impose their presence on me, I keep them at a distance. I've reentered my own skin, my own life, and I no longer have the strength to create characters.
It's the beginning of a new life. I'll be seventy years old on February 13, so my God, I'm old enough to retire! You see, at fifteen I wanted to become novelist, and not much later I wrote my first novel. And I imagined that a novelist was a gentleman who wrote two or three pages from time to time, and then, when he had finished, he'd take them to the printer and be paid. Later, I was astonished to learn that I had to discuss the question of money with publishers. I dreamed of signing a contract with someone who would buy my work for my entire life, in return for an allowance that would have permitted me to live quietly in a four-room apartment. If I had met this someone, I would have signed immediately. Now I'm going to have this small, quiet, voluptuous life of which I dreamed.
"Will you really write nothing more?"
I still feel fine, so I'm not saying that I may not write some things for myself, personal things, whatever, for my own pleasure, but it's unlikely that I will publish them. Maybe I'll write something for my children, if they'll read it.
It's my nature that when I break with someone or something I don't go back there, I never think of it again, it's finished. When I look back at a novel, it says nothing at all to me, it's as if it had been written by someone else. I have no regrets. I devoted my entire life to the novel, I published 214 books. Now I feel the need to breathe. It always took more and more energy to write my novels there's an enormous difference between the tension my first books required and that for my last. Before every chapter I had to take a very strong sedative. If I'd kept it up, it would have killed me in two or three years. I could have continued, of course, by just playing at my work, but that would have taken advantage of my readers and I didn't want that. I have to maintain my integrity. A very famous French writer once told me, "Simenon, I've spent the past four years plagiarizing myself." I don't want to plagiarize myself. Some, like Mauriac, got involved in other activities. Me, I have no interest in starting something new.
I've read all of Nietzsche's works, annotated them at the age of nineteen, and I've reread them since, just as I was captivated by other writers, by Gorky, Dostoyevsky...
I've lived in every milieu, with a certain natural sense of mimicry. When I'd settled onto my boat, I was immediately in contact with sailors. I had the same experience at Epalinges, when speaking with farmers. I tried to live close to people. My dream, when I was young, was to live multiple lives.
But now, I don't want to travel anymore, I'm happy in Lausanne. I've discovered in Switzerland a country where they have respect for a human being. I never see anyone coming to my door here without an appointment. No one asks me my political, religious or philosophical ideas. I have here an impression of liberty and great discretion. I felt the same thing in the United States, where they also have great respect for the freedom of others.
I'm completely detached from my work now, it's no longer mine. I developed it for fifty-five years of my life, it came out of my skin. I've never reread my novels if I had, I probably would have forbidden their republication.
I won't participate in any celebration of my birthday, even in Paris. I know that in Russia they've scheduled several events for my seventieth the main magazine of Moscow will publish When I was old, and a publisher will issue a book on my life and work. Furthermore they're putting on a stage version of a Maigret, Maigret and the Hotel Majestic. Since I'm not a dangerous revolutionary, I don't believe the Russians translate me as an example of "bourgeois" vice. I think it's the human aspect of my books that interests them. I must say that outside of a few French exceptions, the critics who have best understood my novels are the Americans and Russians. But for me, all that now belongs to the past, I'm now a man without profession.
"Even if they offered you the Nobel prize for literature?"
At forty-five, I would have accepted. A few years ago, some Germans and Americans were working to get me nominated, but I cut them short I wouldn't have accepted it anyway.
I've given up trying to find myself. I want to sit in an armchair, looking at nothing, telling myself stories that I will immediately forget. I know that I won't get bored at all. There are so many things...
translation by Stephen Trussel
© 1973 AFP and Paris-Match.