Showing posts with label Maigret. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maigret. Show all posts

Monday, April 11, 2011

Without Acknowledged Passions

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Without Acknowledged Passions


"He was wary of solitary men, people without acknowledged passions."  --Maigret and the Calame Report, by Georges Simenon, Chapter 3.


Like any advanced mammal, they calculate,
the ones with unacknowledged passions, but
their cruelty is cooler, reptilian. If they would
but name their passions, we'd all be safer.

The won't say what they really want, so
they try to exact things from us. Always
in a hurry, bustling with short strides,
keeping careful records, they don't
get much done. Always arguing, they
never convince. And always opining,

they make us crave facts. The ones
without acknowledged passions fail
by seeming to succeed--like an avalanche.
What is wrong with them can't be made
right. Don't try. Pass by.


Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Glimpse in Words

One of my favorite detective novelists is Georges Simenon, who wrote many dozens of short, crisp novels featuring the Parisian police-inspector, Jules Maigret, an ursine man who's both methodical and intuitive, who smokes a pipe, drinks beer and liquor, and who often goes home for lunch, for which Madame Maigret has fixed him a chicken roasted with herbs and wine. There's always a believable psychological angle to the plot--usually nothing bizarre, usually something rooted in common human behavior, such as jealousy, envy, or insecurity.

I was reading one of the few translated Maigret novels I hadn't read before--Maigret Among the Rich--and encountered this description of Maigret, who's arrived on the scene of--you guessed it--a murder, but the victim is a well known French aristocrat:

"[Maigret] had to get used to the unfamiliar setting, to a house, to a way of life, to people who had their own peculiar habits, their own way of thinking and expressing themselves.
With certain categories of human beings, it was relatively easy, for instance with his more or less regular customers or with people like them.
With others he had to start from scratch every time, especially as he distrusted rules and ready-made ideas.
In this new case, he was laboring under an additional handicap. He had made contact, this morning, with a world which was not only very exclusive but which for him, on account of his childhood, was situated on a very special level."

I glimpsed just a wee bit of myself in this description--not that I imagine myself to be a detective or French. But I share the fictional Maigret's sense of nonconformity, which is nonetheless encased in apparently conforming behavior. What could be a more conformist job that policing? And yet Maigret has to get used to every new situation--because he doesn't trust "rules and ready-made ideas." He remains something of a foreigner in his native land. Among the rich, he feels especially strange because he's not rich but also because his father worked for the rich. My father didn't work for the rich, but I still feel strange among people who have substantial wealth. Like Maigret, I feel as if I should keep an eye on them to see how they go about things--what their rules and ready-made ideas are. Doing so doesn't make a lot of sense; it's not as if I'm going to live amongst them or be their friend. Nonetheless, a certain wariness seems to be called up by the situation, and I liked glimpsing a representation of that in this description of Maigret. (I also like the fact that Simenon has Maigret think of the people he usually investigates and arrests as his "customers.")

Simenon happens to be a fine novelist, not just a fine detective novelist. But as wildly popular as he is--he's in Agatha Christie's league--his books are an acquired taste. If you pick up one and "get" the comparatively low-key but tautly written approach, you'll want to devour the rest. If not, not. Unlike Christie's books, however, Simenon's move quickly. Simenon doesn't rush, but he doesn't dawdle, either.

Maigret's among my favorite fictional detectives--along with Miss Marple, Sherlock (of course), Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell's Swedish policeman), Nero Wolfe, Poirot, and Sam Spade. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is appealing, as is Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins. Maigret might have a slight edge over them all, in the sense that I never seem to tire of following him around his fictional Paris and other locales, including his drafty office, his cafes, and his bistros. He seems to fit in, but in fact, the world doesn't fit him so well. The world takes some getting used to, in Maigret's opinion.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holmes For Christmas

I didn't receive any books of poetry for Christmas, but I did get the third volume of Leslie Klinger's new annotated edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes fiction. This volume includes the novels; it's published by W.W. Norton, and it replaces Baring-Gould's famous annotated edition. Klinger has the last two volumes of tales to go before finishing the complete annotated set. For every page of fiction, there are usually at least three or four long notes, just to give you some idea of how detailed the volumes are. They also include splendid illustrations and bibliographies. Klinger is an extremely professional amateur scholar, a lawyer by trade but a Holmesian at heart. His scholarship is superb.

I have long thought that the appeal of detective fiction in general and Holmes-fiction in particular was similar to that of poetry; in the case of both genres, there are certain well defined conventions within which the author is supposed to work, but at the same time, aficionados of detective fiction and poetry are always ready to entertain a disruption of the conventions--as long as it works. Among the more satisfying improvisations in the Holmes canon is his "defeat"; the genius is outwitted in "A Scandal in Bohemia," by the woman--and an American!--Irene Adler.

In addition to reading poetry (Cavafy and Housman at the moment), I'm also reading detective fiction. I just finished A Man's Head, a Maigret novel by Georges Simenon, and I have to say it ranks with the best Maigret novels. I think my favorite may still be Maigret's Revolver, but A Man's Head is superb. As usual, there is a great deal of pipe-smoking, brooding, drinking, and eating--as well as detecting. Freud, a detective in his own right, might claim that Maigret has an oral fixation. I'm part way through an Agatha Christie novel featuring Poirot, Murder in Retrospect. It's one of the later ones, and it's not bad at all. Christie, via Poirot, seems to come out in favor of modern (that is, surealistic) painting; that was a bit of a surprise.

I gave books for Christmas, too. One family member received The Jane Austen Cookbook, which, in addition to including recipes, includes information about dining practices in Austen's era and social class. Another family member received a travel-memoir about Sicily.

If you a) take part in a gift-tradition of some kind this time of year and b) like books, I hope some gift-givers came through for you. In any event, we are into the prime reading weeks of the year--deepest, darkest December. Put a soup or a stew on the stove, get a real or faux fire going, and crack open a good book. Salve for the soul.