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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-20 18:39
Mind Games
Pietr Le Letton - Georges Simenon
Pietr the Latvian - Georges Simenon

Oh boy.  This is the first of the 70+ Maigret novels that Georges Simenon published over the course of 40 years, beginning in 1931, and it's perhaps a sign of just how far crime writing has evolved since then that this book was published (in serialized form initially) "as is": I'm willing to wager that no author writing today would get away with this amount of plot holes, plot elements that don't even stand up to the most basic level of fact checking, disregard for even rudimentary police procedure, and an emphasis on a(n open! and solitary) pursuit that initially doesn't seem to accomplish much besides

getting a junior officer left behind in the lurch as well as two other people connected with the case killed, and the senior officer engaging in the pursuit seriously wounded, even if not incapacitated to the extent that he immediately has to turn over the case to someone else.

(spoiler show)

 

(The good news is: Over the course of the aforementioned 40 years, the plots got better, and Maigret did get to engage in investigations that even from today's point of view can be taken a bit more seriously.)

 

It is equally clear, however, that these weren't the things that Simenon himself was most interested in, to begin with.  Rather, even in this first novel, Simenon's chief interest was in the mind games going on between the detective and the criminal, the hunter and his prey:

"Il serait peut-être exagéré de prétendre que, dans beaucoup d'enquêtes, des relations cordiales naissent entre la police et celui qu'elle est chargée d'accculer aux aveux.

Presque toujours, pourtant, à moins qu'il s'agisse d'une sombre brute, une sorte d'intimité s'établit. Cela tient sans doute à ce que, pendant des semaines, parfois des mois, policier et malfaiteur ne sont préoccupés que l'un de l'autre.

L'enquêteur s'acharne à pénétrer plus avant dans la vie passée du coupable, tente de reconstituer ses pensées, de prévoir ses moindres réflexes.

L'un et l'autre joent leur peau dans cette partie. Et lorsqu'ils se rencontrent, c'est dans des circonstances assez dramatiques pour faire fondre l'indifférence polie qui, dans la vie de tous les jours, préside aux relations entre hommes."

(As translated by David Bellos in the 2013 Penguin edition -- copied from Google Books:

"It would be an exaggeration to say that in most criminal inquiries cordial relations arise between the police and the person they are trying to corner into a confession.  All the same, they almost always become close to some degree (unless the suspect is just a glowering brute). That must be because for weeks and sometimes months on end the police and the suspect do nothing but think about each other

The investigator strives to know all he can about the suspect's past, seeks to reconstitute his thinking and to foresee his reactions.

Both sides have high stakes in the game.  When they sit down to a match, they do so in circumstances  that are dramatic enough to strip away the veneer of polite indifference that passes for human relations in everyday life.")

Again leaving aside the question how true this is actually of every single police investigation, Simenon, in other words, posits the sort of mind games that continue to drive highly charged thrillers even today, from John le Carré's Spy Who Came in from the Cold to Ian Rankin's Knots and Crosses and Bleeding Hearts, the movie Heat (starring Robert de Niro and Al Pacino) and just about every single seriel killer plot ... and which certainly also factored in Golden Age mysteries involving "great detectives" such as Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, both of whom emphasized the psychological angle of their investigations, and who repeatedly engaged in "mind game" encounters of their own with some of their adversaries (cf., inter alia, The Final Problem and The Mazarin Stone for Holmes, Curtain and The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding for Poirot). -- Taking this element as the one that ultimately drives the entire novel, then, Maigret's open and solitary pursuit of his quarry makes sense at least from the writer's point of view; and Simenon would go on to explore mind games of this sort not only in many another Maigret novel but also, and even more so, in his "romans durs," his standalone novels; repeatedly there also from the point of view of the criminal.

 

That said, the "mind game" angle is only one of several recurring features of Simenon's writing that is present from this first Maigret novel onwards: another is (obviously) Simenon's rather terse style, and yet another his rather obvious affinity for dingy seaside locations -- I swear, there can hardly be any dreary seaport and fishing village on the coasts of Normandy and Brittany (and elsewhere in France, but chiefly on the Channel and North Sea coast) that does not feature, in all its desultory glory, in one Simenon novel or other; rain, fog, smelly harbour and fish market, seedy bars, corruption and a general sense of hopelessness included.  By these standards, this novel's feature rundown Normandy port city of Fécamp is actually getting away lightly, even though we are treated to plenty of rain and November weather, as well as a visit to a shabby bar at the train station.

 

I read this book for the "Cosmopolitan Crimes" / chapter 23 square of the Detection Club bingo, which actually features a detail taken from the Penguin edition's cover of this novel, and which summarizes the overal atmosphere -- particularly of the early and final chapters -- rather well.

 

Previous status update: 117 of 191 pages.

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-18 16:30
Reading progress update: I've read 117 out of 191 pages.
Pietr Le Letton - Georges Simenon

Well, one thing is obvious: Simenon was writing for an audience that clearly had specific images in their mind whenever a Paris locale was invoked -- no need to go into great descriptive and atmospheric detail; mere name-dropping of the location was sufficient.  All of which is fine for today's readers as long as they are at least familiar with the present-day incarnations of these places (and possibly their history), or have seen period images, but which makes the novel somewhat inaccessible if you've never been to Paris nor have other ways of evoking the same sense of instant recognition that Simenon's contemporaneous audience would have had.  Which probably goes some way towards explaining (in addition to their several TV adaptations over the decades) why his books are still incredibly popular in Europe -- and not merely in France, either -- but somewhat less well known elsewhere.

 

Also, I note that Maigret is another one of the "great detectives" who didn't age in real time.  We're told at the beginning of "Pietr le Letton" that he was 45 years old in 1931, when this book was published, which would have made for retirement in the early 1950s.  Yet le commissaire Maigret was still investigating crimes in the early 1970s ...

 


36 Quai des Orfèvres, the police headquarters of Paris, then and now.  There's a neat blog page (in French) looking at the history of the place. (Note: Linked place names hereafter contain similar links to information found on the web.)

 


Simenon's "Majestic" is a luxury hotel in the vein of the Meurice (left) and the Georges V (right) (both photos from Wikipedia).  Its interior might well have looked like this:

... and we're told that it's on the Champs Elysées, which looked like this then:

 Maigret and the man he pursues take the train from, and arrive back in Paris at the Gare St. Lazare:

Maigret then follows his quarry on foot all the way from the Gare St. Lazare across the city centre to the Rue du Roi de Sicile, via Rue du 4 Septembre and Les Halles, which is easily a 50-minute walk. (NB: the police headquarters at 36 Quai des Orfèvres are on the southern bank of Île Notre Dame, just below Sainte Chapelle in the below map, in the direction of Pont Neuf):

Les Halles, the famous "Belly of Paris" epitomized in Émile Zola's novel of the same name -- razed in the 1970s and replaced by a forum, which in turn was replaced by a canopy roof in the 2000s:

 

The Rue du Roi de Sicile was part of the old Jewish quarter in the Marais (video on YouTube -- opens on BookLikes only in blog view, not in dashboard view):


Rue due Roi de Sicile (photos from Wikiwand)

... and elsewhere in the old Jewish quarter.

The Marais (which literally translates as "swamp" -- for a [geographical] reason) today is an area of bars and nightclubs, and in the early 2000s used to be one of the centres of the gay scene (don't know whether that's still the case).

As Simenon highlights, it is only a few hundred feet from the Rue de Rivoli, next to the Champs Elysées one of the most luxurious shopping miles of Paris -- in the 1930s, the contrast between the poverty of the Jewish quarter and the splendour of the Rue de Rivoli must have been staggering:

(Rue de Rivoli, then and now)

The evening of that same day, Maigret follows the American billionaire Mortimer-Levingston and his wife to the (théâtre du) Gymnase on Bd. Bonne Nouvelle (on the above map, the stretch between Bd. Haussmann and Bd. Saint-Martin) where they attend the performance of an opera. (Note: Today's incarnation of the Gymnase is a cabaret; it's still in the same building, but the shows presented are entirely different):
 

Afterwards, the billionaire couple proceed to a dance bar on (or near) the Rue la Fayette (bottom row: the same corner of Rue la Fayette, then and now -- photos from CParama / Le Métropolitain de Paris):
 

Bars in Montmartre, Montparnasse and Saint Germain des Près similar to what Simenon's Pickwick Bar would probably have been like (photos from various sources):
    

And, finally, a few images of Fécamp (Normandie), where Maigret follows the man identified as Pietr le Letton at the beginning of the book (right: an early 20th century painting of Fécamp harbour by Robert Antoine Pinchon; both images from Wikipedia):

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

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text 2017-10-16 09:10
Tannat & Tigus: Eh voilĂ  ...

 

... it's here.  Even though the cat could hardly be bothered!

 

 

(This is the only photo I got out of him at all.  After that, he decided this was too stupid for words and hoofed it under my bed.)

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review 2017-05-01 17:19
Bouvard and Pecuchet / The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas - Gustave Flaubert,A.J. Krailsheimer

Alors Pécuchet le tournant vers la Grande-Ourse, lui montra l'étoile polaire, puis Cassiopée dont la constellation forme un Y, Véga de la Lyre toute scintillante, et au bas de l'horizon, le rouge Aldebaran.

Ils ne furent pas plus heureux sur la communication qui existait entre une citerne de Falaise et le faubourg de Caen. Des canards qu'on y avait introduits reparurent à Vaucelles, en grognant: -
"Can can can" d'où est venu le nom de la ville.

 

Parfois, ils sentaient un frisson et comme le vent d'une idée; au moment de la saisir, elle avait disparu.

Le sujet s'accorde toujours avec le verbe, sauf les occasions où le sujet ne s'accorde pas.

Ils en conclurent que la syntaxe est une fantaisie et la grammaire une illusion.

En regardant brûler la chandelle, ils se demandaient si la lumière est dans l'objet ou dans notre œil. Puisque les étoiles peuvent avoir disparu quand leur éclat nous arrive, nous admirons, peut-être, des choses qui n'existent pas.

 

- "La vie est un passage, mais la mort est éternelle!"

Et Pécuchet survenant, ajouta que les animaux avaient aussi leurs droits, car ils ont une âme, comme nous, - si toutefois la nôtre existe?

Mais bientôt ils s'ennuyèrent, leur esprit ayant besoin d'un travail, leur existence d'un but!

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review 2016-12-29 08:59
Diary of a Loner
Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre,Robert Baldick

I was originally going to read this book when I was in Paris, however I had only just finished reading a collection of Satre's plays and there were a couple of other books that had caught my attention beforehand (such as [author:Hemmingway]), so I decided to put it down for a while. Mind you, considering that it is set in a seaside town that is fictional, though technically supposed to be La Havre, I could have read it when I was in Rouen, though of course I didn't know anything about the book until I actually started reading it. Anyway, since I have no idea when I will get back to France (particularly La Havre as there is supposed to be an Impressionist Museum there which happened to have the famous Renoir paintings on display in an exhibition, which meant they weren't in the D'Orsay when I was there), I decided that I should read it sooner rather than later.

 

 

Well, I have to admit that I am glad I did because this book is nothing short of awesome, even if it is somewhat hard to follow up times. Mind you, I would start praising Satre's writing style but that would probably make me look like a complete idiot because the version that I read was in English and Satre wrote in French, and my French is simply not at a level where I can actually read a novel, let alone determine whether the writing is any good (my German isn't that good either, but at least I can read a Tintin book, though I usually only get past the first couple of pages before I put it down and go and start doing something else, though reading a Tintin book in German is sort of cheating since I am quite familiar with the books anyway).

 

I probably should start talking about the book as opposed to rabbiting on about anything but the book, but then again I am one of those people that does get distracted quite often, and I do sort of write stream of consciousness style, in the sense that I simply dump onto the word processor the first thing that comes to mind as opposed to actually planning out my review in the way that I would do an essay. Well, this book is stream of consciousness, but it does not necessarily mean that Satre didn't plan it, namely because writing stream of consciousness doesn't necessarily mean that the story wasn't planned, but rather it is writing in a style as if we were looking directly into the mind of the author. Actually, Nausea (or La Nausée as it is in French) is written as a diary of the protagonist who basically puts his thoughts down on paper as he basically drifts through life, and drift he certainly seems to do.

 

 

Nausea is about an historian named Antoine who basically is trying to come to terms with who he is. He is financially secure, which means that he doesn't have to work, and basically spends his time researching and writing about an obscure French politician. He is also a bit of a loner, though he does interact with the Autodidact, who is basically reading every book in the library in alphabetical order (something which I probably wouldn't do, not so much reading every book in the library, but reading them in Alphabetical order, though I would probably skip books like Fifty Shades of Grey and the sequels). There are also a couple of other characters in the book, including Antoine's long lost love Anny, whom he tries to get back in touch with only to discover that she has moved on.

 

 

Funny thing this, and I guess it goes to show the type of person that he is, clinging onto a past that has long gone. This does happen, especially when one is a loner, that the only people that we know are the people that we have known, so when we decide to start looking for love the loner always looks backwards to the people that he (or she) has known as opposed to the people that he (or she) will know. Then again I guess this is the nature of the future – it is a big unknown, whereas the past is a known, and as such when we look back into the past we only encounter people that we have known, and people that we have known tend to be more comforting because there are no nasty surprises, where as people that we do not know, though we might have met them, are a blank slate, which means the potential for some really nasty surprises.

 

 

Yet, as Antoine has discovered, things are not static – they change, as is the case with Anny. She has moved on and simply doesn't want to go back, where as Antoine simply wants to cling to a past that has now long gone. I guess this is why he is an historian since he does not want to let go of the past. However, does that mean that Ford was correct when he said that 'history is bunk'? I don't think so – there are two ways to approaching history: the academic way and the conservative way. The academic seeks to learn from the past to be able to understand why things are the way they are, and to look for patterns to assist us in ascertaining the future. This is the same with the stock market analyst – they analyse historical data in an attempt to look for patterns which might make them, and their client's, money. Then we have the conservative view that doesn't look at the past academically, but rather looks at the past as a form of comfort – in a way the past comforts them because it is familiar, while the future is a vast unknown, and thus the conservative wishes to cling to the familiar rather than take the risk for entering the unknown, which is why, in many cases, we have this war against the future. Then again, it really isn't the immigrants that are taking our jobs, they are just taking the jobs that we really don't want to do – no, the robots are taking our jobs.

 

Finally, there is the question of existence and identity, but then again this is one of the core ideas of existentialism – who we are. Mind you, this type of query has been going on since time immemorial (or at least as far back as people discovered that they had time to sit down and think about thinking as opposed to working in the fields tilling crops and going out into the forest to hunt animals), even before Decartes famously said je pense, donc je suis (I think, therefore I am). However, what is coming out of this book is the suggestion that our identity, our existence, is defined by our environment. This is evident as Antoine comes to realise that the inanimate objects around him are beginning to define his existence, which is starting to make him sick – ergo the title of the book.

 

 

Yet isn't it true that in our modern society we are defined by our job, our house, our upbringing, even the phone that we have: oh, you have a Samsug that is three years old, well I'm better because I have a new one (says the cocky individual before the phone blows up). I guess it is one of the reasons why BMWs are suddenly becoming so popular, and why the urban sprawl is pretty much destroying Australia's market gardens – we need to have an identity and that identity comes from the house you live in and the car you drive. In fact it has even been suggested that some people have had their job applications rejected based upon the suburb in which they live.

 

 

Okay, that is a very materialistic look at the book because there is a much more philosophical look as well, and that is our environment. Sure, there is our definition based on our phone and our car, but there is also the definition based on our family, where we grow up, the language that we speak, and the people whom we associate with – many of these things we have no control over. For instance my Dad was an electronic engineer when has resulted in me having a much stronger affinity with computers than the guy next door whose dad is a motor mechanic. Mind you, I ended up doing and arts/law degree, but a lot of that had to do with the post-modern idea of defining ourselves as opposed to letting the world define us. This, in a way, works because there are a lot of toxic people out there who try to define who we are against our will, however there are other aspects to our environment, to our definition, and to our existence, that we should embrace.

 

In the end embrace that which is good about us and reject that toxic individual who scorns you because you vote for a different political party, don't own a car, and tries to provide an explanation to your life out of their own ignorance, but rather accept those who accept you for who you are, and seek to let the past be the past and see the future as an exciting adventure that needs to be lived as opposed to a terrifying unknown that needs to be stopped. If anything, the one thing about our coming robot overlords is that they aren't going to discriminate.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1844003877
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