This work of proficient scholarship is unlikely to tempt readers who are not devotees of the bard of Liège. The stated aim — to plug a gap in a branch of Simenon studies exploring links between the outputs of this famously peripatetic writer and various geographical locations — is a modest one. As such the book deals with stories set mainly or partly in Normandy, which amount to six Maigret novels and short stories, and upwards of a dozen further narratives of varying lengths. There is also a brief chapter on big-screen and televisual adaptations of some of the literary texts. Punctilious information on economic and social developments in the urban, rural, and coastal regions of Normandy during the early and middle periods of the twentieth century is provided, not only by way of context but as a means of explicating understated allusions in the fiction. However, the analysis tends to drift from regional specificities to more general discussion of social milieus, pitching up against a paradox familiar in Simenon studies of a writer ensconced for most of his life in a social élite, spinning out countless fictions empathic to the humility and limited expectations of a sentimentalized petite bourgeoisie. Unsurprisingly the settings for this subset of the vastest of œuvres, for example the coastal town of Fécamp and its fishing industry in Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas (1931), reflect in their spatial and temporal particularities the subtle gradations of social class that Simenon captured almost peerlessly throughout his career. When the argument slips its Normandy moorings, the reader is treated to perceptive passages on the way in which the writer’s fondness for ellipsis conveys the ideology of the petite bourgeoisie, or on how his character portraits confound attempts on the part of successive French regimes since the demise of the Paris Commune in 1871 to construct a national identity, a shared sense of what ‘Frenchness’ might entail. Yet frustratingly, showing a restraint common to many Simenon specialists, William Alder swerves the more troubling aspects of the author’s life and thought. How is it possible to quote Simenon (from an interview given in February 1938) exclaiming, albeit in the context of the turbulence of the Third Republic, ‘j’ai horreur par conséquent de la démocratie’, without probing further his political beliefs and the mystery of his low profile during the Occupation years? Lastly, the detailed plot summaries demarcated in the text through the use of subtitles seem unnecessary and would certainly inconvenience readers intending to read any of these novels for the first time. The photographs batched at the end of the manuscript are, however, a delight. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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