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Maigret of the Month: Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas (The Sailors' Rendez-vous) - 1

September 2004 –
Having received a request from a former school friend, Maigret persuades his wife that they should spend their holiday in Normandy rather than Alsace. They arrive in Fécamp (Seine-Maritime), from where trawlers sail to fish in the waters off Newfoundland.
Simenon wrote this novel in July 1931 whilst his boat the Ostrogoth was moored at Morsang-sur-Seine (Seine-et-Oise).
He knew the Normandy coast, as he had been in that region only a few years previously.
In the summer of 1925 he and his wife Tigy had spent a holiday at Étretat (Seine-Maritime), where they met Henriette Liberge, a fisherman's daughter, from nearby Bénouville. Nearly nineteen, they engaged her as their maid and cook for a year, but she was to remain with the Simenon family all her life. Simenon nicknamed her Boule (possibly he gave her a nickname not wishing to use her real first name, which was the same as that of his mother with whom he always had a difficult relationship).
No doubt during that holiday he and his wife explored the region, with Yport and Fécamp only a few miles along the coast. Early in 1929 he visited Fécamp and commissioned the boat builder Georges Argentin to construct for him a boat measuring 33 feet long by 13 feet wide, rigged, which would have a twenty horsepower engine. This he would name the Ostrogoth, which became his home, together with Tigy, Boule and Olaf, the family dog, for the next two years. He supervised the boat's construction and became very familiar with Fécamp, its atmosphere, its fishing community and its environment.

Map of the centre of Fécamp (Michelin 1962)   (click to enlarge)

His knowledge gave him, in this novel, the opportunity to plunge Maigret into the atmosphere of Fécamp, the daily activities, the sounds and the smells. All of these coupled with the tension brought about by the return of one of the trawlers with the loss of its cabin boy, the murder of its captain, the spoilt cargo of fish and with its crew talking of the vessel being jinxed.
Maigret soon finds himself among a variety of characters, many of whom, in some way or other, are associated with the fated trawler. He meets and observes some of its crew in the quayside café Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas, as the name implies, a meeting place, a focal point. Although acting unofficially, its here that certain things are implied that sow the seed of his enquiries.
In this novel Simenon explores certain elements of the human condition, possessiveness, jealousy and obsession. At the centre of this is the easy going Adèle Noirhomme. In two earlier Maigret novels Simenon has also placed young women in a situation that has caused ructions. In La Nuit du Carrefour (Maigret at the Crossroads) there is Else Anderson who finds herself living in a gloomy house with only two other households for neighbours, situated at an isolated country crossroads. She is bored with the monotony and becomes involved with the nefarious activities of her neighbours. In another way, Beetje Liewens in Un Crime en Hollande (Maigret in Holland) is thinking of flight, escaping from a dominating father and the restrictive Protestant influenced community in which she lives, becoming involved with any man who is likely to help her achieve her aim.
Now Adèle Noirhomme, brash and at times aggressive, who knows that she can attract most men and who enjoys a good time, becomes the focus of attention when the captain of the trawler suggests that she joins him on his next fishing trip. And as she put it:
'Then he came to get me. He made me go into his cabin the night before they sailed. The idea of a change amused me, but if I'd known how it was going to turn out I'd have dropped it like a hot coal!'
By questioning a number of people from the trawler and those that had associations with them, Maigret comes to a conclusion. This fulfils the request that he was asked to carry out, but overall he follows his own belief of understanding and not judging, leaving certain matters undefined, and with his wife, departs from Fécamp as soon as he can.

To date, there is only Margaret Ludwig's English translation of this novel, which follows Simenon's French text closely.

Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas (The Sailors' Rendez-vous) - 2

9/05/04, 2004 –

I just finished reading "Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas". In this book, Maigret, as usual, tries to understand... but he is also judging.

He discovers that Le Clinche, if not the murderer, told the father (of the ship's boy) who killed his son. This is complicity in murder and perhaps also provocation. But M does not tell the story to his colleagues, and lets the murderer go free. He must be thinking that enough lives have been spoiled already and that it was not worth spoiling others.
This is different from other stories, where Maigret leaves this part to the Judge. I think there are one or two other Maigrets where he voluntarily lets the murderer go free... or more?

In Chapter 4, it is really the young girl who is investigating: she is the one willing to visit the boat, going under the bed and Maigret is following her. In other books, Maigret takes a more active part and leads the investigation, even in Un Crime en Hollande (Maigret in Holland) where the invited professor is investigating, Maigret leads the story.



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