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Maigret of the Month: Les Vacances de Maigret (A Summer Holiday/ Maigret on Holiday)
4/11/06 –

At the end of October 1945, having found suitable rented accommodation in Canada at Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson some fifty miles north of Montréal, once more Simenon was able to establish his writing schedule. During 1946 and 1947 he wrote 10 novels (3 of them involving Maigret) and 10 of the longer short stories (with Maigret featuring in 4 of them), but they were not all written at the same locations.

After spending six months at Sainte-Marguerite, in May 1946 he moved to the small fishing village of Saint Andrews on Canada’s Atlantic coast near to the border with the United States and the State of Maine. Another six months stay, at the end of which he felt ready to move into the United States. Having bought two second-hand cars, in mid-September 1946, Simenon, his wife Tigy, their son Marc with his governess and Denyse Ouimet left Saint Andrews and crossed the border into the United States. They followed Route Number One taking in the Eastern States until they reached Miami in Florida. Disliking Miami, they drove to Sarasota on Florida’s west coast and north of there Simenon rented accommodation at a location named Bradenton Beach.

He capitalised on this journey by writing nineteen articles entitled L’Amérique en auto (America by car — not translated), eleven of which were published in the French newspaper France-Soir in November 1946. (All nineteen articles have been reprinted in book form in recent years).

Simenon was based at Bradenton Beach from November 1946 until August 1947 when he with his eight-year-old son Marc and Denyse Ouimet left there by car travelling west through several of the Southern States until they reached Tucson in Arizona. At the end of May 1947, his wife Tigy had returned to France primarily to sort out finances. On this visit she obtained a visa for Boule who accompanied her back to New York in September1947, but Boule had to reside in Nogales on the Mexican / Arizona border for a while before joining the rest of the group in Tucson.

When staying for some time in such locations as Sainte-Marguerite and Saint Andrews in Canada, Bradenton Beach in Florida and now in Tucson, Simenon took the opportunity to write certain novels and some short stories.

Initially landing in New York, and visiting there from time to time, had given him the impetus to write again after leaving Europe. Set in New York, his first novel was Trois Chambres à Manhattan (Three Beds in Manhattan) clearly based on his meeting with Denyse Ouimet who became his secretary, mistress and later his second wife. His keenness — perhaps over keenness — to bring Maigret to New York, led to his second novel Maigret à New York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York) being written soon after in March 1946. Unfortunately this Maigret novel is not so successful as the more recent ones, being somewhat patchy and disjointed, with certain characters slotted in to the narrative rather than being more integrated. It is as if Simenon’s enthusiasm for a new city had got the better of him, rather than for him to have been able to absorb its way of life.

Whether he sensed this is a matter of conjecture, as he did not write another Maigret novel for another twenty months, the only works involving Maigret being four short stories all with European settings. Also he did not attempt another novel with an American setting for almost the same period of time, waiting until he had settled for a time in Tucson, Arizona, before he wrote the novel La Jument Perdue (The Lost Mare — not translated) in October 1947. (The title refers to the name of a ranch, which he located near Tucson).

In November 1947 Simenon wrote Les Vacances de Maigret (A Summer Holiday / No Vacation for Maigret / Maigret on Holiday), which is very different from the previous novel Maigret in New York. Here Simenon reverts back to Maigret being a member of the Police Judiciaire in Paris, but as the French title indicates, Maigret is on holiday with his wife. They have decided to spend their August holiday at Les Sables d’Olonne in the département of the Vendée.

This particular coastal resort was well known to Simenon. He had visited it for the first time with his wife Tigy in the summer of 1927 soon after ending his liaison with Josephine Baker. He became very attached to this part of the Atlantic coast of France, especially La Rochelle, and from time to time lived in various places along this stretch of the coast.

In the summer of 1944 Simenon contracted a viral infection and was advised to recuperate by the sea. He was living in the Vendée region of France and in early September 1944 he decided to go to Les Sables d’Olonne. The last of the Occupying forces had left there on the 28th of August (Paris having been liberated only three days before on the 25th) in what were the later stages of the Second World War. Simenon was to remain in Les Sables d’Olonne for eight months until April 1945.

This shows the main part of Les Sables-d’Olonne. Key: A= The Church of Nôtre-Dame-de-Bon-Port; H= Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall); G = Gendarmerie; White Cross in a square = Hôpital des Sables. Hôtel de Remblai et de l’Océan, 68-70 Quai Clemenceau et 1 Place Foch (in the novel Brasserie du Remblai). Hôtel Bellevue, 66 Promenade de la Plage. The Remblai is the general name given to the area of the beach. (from Guide Michelin: France: 1934)

His detailed knowledge of this place is obvious from the novel, although he was writing it hundred of miles away, and two years on, recapturing the atmosphere, the sights, smells and sounds as if he was still there. Undoubtedly he used the same establishments in the novel as he did when he was living there, this being confirmed by the detailed research of Michel Carly, although some go under different names. The church of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Port is next to the market and although there is a Rue de Bel Air, the hotel of that name is the Hôtel Roches-Noires (12, Promenade Georges Clemenceau). Maigret visits regularly the Brasserie du Remblai which at 67 Quai Clemenceau is the Hôtel du Remblai-Océan. The Hôtel Bellevue is to be found at 66 Promenade de la Plage, whilst the Hôpital des Sables (which Simenon attended and where Madame Maigret is a patient) is off the Boulevard Pasteur.

Although outside his jurisdiction, Maigret is gradually drawn into an investigation. Near to the beginning of their holiday, Madame Maigret is taken ill with an appendicitis and has to have an operation in the local hospital.

Left on his own, Maigret develops a routine of visiting his wife each day and calling in on various establishments around the town. One of these is the Brasserie du Remblai where every afternoon he watches some of the prominent men of the town play bridge.

But his curiosity is aroused when he finds a note relating to a certain patient in the hospital, which has been slipped surreptitiously into his coat pocket.

Simenon gradually builds up the storyline, with Maigret exploring various parts of the town, questioning a variety of people in an endeavour to discover more facts. At times he comes across a certain class system, at others a certain reticence, which makes him worried and frustrated, but by being persistent, he arrives at a certain point in his thinking where a likely result is within his grasp, a result that resolves from obsession and revenge.

In some ways Simenon explores the character of the culprit in a way that echoes some of those that are found in his other novels that are often called the psychological novels or the novels of destiny.

Some years ago, to commemorate the author’s association with Les Sables d’Olonne, a square in the town was renamed the Place Georges Simenon.

There are two English translations of this Maigret novel. It was first published in 1950 in a two novel hardback volume entitled Maigret on Holiday in the United Kingdom by Routledge and Kegan Paul. This volume contains A Summer Holiday (Les Vacances de Maigret) and To Any Lengths (Signé Picpus) both in the usual freer translations by Geoffrey Sainsbury. A second translation by Jacqueline Baldick under the title of Maigret on Holiday was published in 1970 as a paperback by Penguin Books in the United Kingdom, this translation being closer to the author’s French text.

This shows the main part of Les Sables-d’Olonne. Key: Red Cross in a square = Hôpital des Sables, Boulevard Pasteur. h = Hôtel Bellevue, 67 Promenade G. Clemenceau. s = Hôtel Roches Noires, 12 Promenade G. Clemenceau (in the novel Hôtel Bel Air). (from Michelin: France 1964) [click to enlarge]

Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Les Vacances de Maigret (A Summer Holiday/ Maigret on Holiday)
4/23/06 –

I read this month's Maigret over the weekend. In some respects this is the saddest of all the Maigret stories. There were three deaths in the story, two murders and one where someone jumped from a speeding car. All three of the victims were quite young, in their teens, and I think they were the youngest victims in any Maigret story. The murdered pair were brother and sister and it is inferred from the text that they were the only children of their parents. They were killed a couple of days apart. The other was the murderer's sister-in-law. I won't tell the story here, but Maigret was up against his equal in this story, an intelligent man who was not a professional criminal. It's a very good story, but I'm curious about a few small details concerning Madame Maigret. She had her appendix out at the start of their vacation and spent what seems to be an inordinate amount of time in the hospital recovering, given that no complications were mentioned. I had my appendix out in 1961, not all that many years after this was written, and I was out of the hospital in less than a week. I think Madame Maigret tells her husband to stop bringing her oranges because she is not eating them fast enough, before the text mentioned that she was allowed to eat again. At any rate, she was still in the hospital at the end of the story. Aside from that, it was quite a good story.



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