Author Returns to the Scene of His Crimes
The background is typical of his 38 films. New film (with
Michel Simon as Maigret) awaits release.
SIMENON, brilliant crime novelist, returns for a visit to Europe from the States, to be made a member of the Royal Belgian Academy of French Language and Literature and to celebrate the publication of his 148th book. He looks in on London, but Paris, where he lived for 23 years before the war, is his spiritual home; and here his fame is at its peak. But in England, too, he's in the top rank among sellers. His sales here are around the million mark. He is still a young man (forty-nine). How did he become not only a best-seller, but also one of the best writers of the day?
On the Quai des Orfevres he pulls out a pipe which might have belonged to Inspector Maigret, and ponders the question. "First of all," he says, "I should tell any young man that wanted to follow in my footsteps to read the novels of Dickens, Stevenson, Dostoievsky, Balzac, and Daniel Defoe. Then forget them. He must stop reading and start living. He mustn't be like Zola, who cross-examined a carpenter in his workshop about the tricks of his trade, then sat down to hammer out a book on the life of a carpenter."
Simenon himself served a three-year term as a reporter. But any other trade would have done. After all, one doesn't fall in love to write a love-story. No you must just live; writing is a by-product of living. Yes; but you must have a plot. How, then, does Simenon find his plots? Plots arrive; or they don't. They can't be found by looking. In the same way, you mustn't try
to create characters. A character such as Maigret, for instance. "To 'make' Maigret," says Simenon, "I drew on my observation of many police inspectors. That doesn't prevent plenty of police inspectors from believing that they themselves are the original Maigret, even though they don't happen to be heavyweights. Not that I made Maigret heavy. He is heavy. Physically he's almost the antithesis of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is long-headed and lean. But then Holmes is a cerebral detective a sleuth of the brain. Maigret is heavy and comfortable. He works, not cerebrally, but intuitively. I suspect he's more interested in human beings, and certainly in human relationships, than Holmes."
He will continue to give us more Maigret books each year, between his riding, fishing, playing golf ("which takes too long"). His French-Canadian wife acts as manager, also sees that he gets his favourite meals oysters, mussels, and very raw steaks. He has two sons; one of twelve, one of two. He has chosen to live in Connecticut because he likes America, doesn't enjoy big cities, but must be next door to New York.
Meanwhile, Paris is good enough. He knocks out his pipe and walks back towards the Police Judiciaire building.
A Falstaffian figure, wrapped up in a heavy brown overcoat, walks out of a doorway of the Police Judiciaire, his hand extended.
"Welcome home, Monsieur Simenon," he exclaims. "I am the original Maigret, yes?"
"Ah!" says Georges Simenon, shaking his hand warmly. "Really? I'm most happy to meet you."