Re: RARA-AVIS: Leo Malet

From: Etienne Borgers (
Date: 28 Jul 2003

Mark, Some answers about L鯠Malet.

- He started as a mystery writer by writing for second grade publishers during the war (1941). Before this, he was mainly publishing poems and surrealist texts in avant-garde publications. Because there was a ban on everything American and English, in publishing, films ..etc, since the Germans occupied France (mid 1940), many publishers tried to find local replacements for escapist and popular lit of Anglo-Saxon origin. Mystery lit, highly in favor before the war in France, was one of their targets as many Anglo-Saxon authors were out of the market (many new French mystery authors took an English pseudo under publishers pressure- so did also Malet at his beginnings under the name of Frank Harding and Leo Latimer). Paper rationing was a problem, but never really stopped the local publishing (1945 was more critical year for this problem).
"120 rue de la Gare" was first published end 1943. Next Burma novel (Nestor Burma contre CQFD) was published in 1945 Malet used also many pseudonyms to produce novels in several genre of popular lit all along WW2 and he pursued also his more literary publishing of poems etc.

- In May 1940, when the war began in France, Malet was preventively jailed in Rennes "as subversive element" (as many others) by the government (all this because Malet adhered to pacifist views and joined petitions against war. He was also in contact with intellectual anarchists). One month later he was freed by the French prison authorities as the German were successful with their invasion and took over the city of Rennes. Ironically he was captured by the Germans when on the road, and finally sent to a Stalag in Germany. He was freed due to health problems around mid-1941. Malet never disclosed to the Germans that he was not with the army and why (as this could have been worse for him).

-Malet knew Hammet's works before the war (Hammett was already translated in France) and declared often his admiration for this American author. He probably knew Latimer as well (see one of his pseudos). I doubt he knew Chandler's novel before the war, as you correctly suggest. But later, Malet declared a few times that his preferred author was Chandler (curio: The Big Sleep was translated by Boris Vian in 1948, for Serie Noire). He was also an avid reader of mystery lit, but we do not have details about what he exactly was reading during the pre-war years.

-you will find surrealist references in many of Malet's novels. He joined the Parisian surrealist movement in 1931 and knew Breton, Dali et al, meeting them at the famous caf頦quot;Cyrano"… he took part to surrealist events, exhibitions, signed some manifests…etc and published surrealist texts, all before the war.

(Malet explained his life in many interviews. Francis Lacassin -French essayist, popular lit specialist- made a short chronology that I consulted to refresh my memory about certain dates)

Hope this helps.

E.Borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries

At 20:59 27-07-03 -0400, you wrote:
>I'm about half way through Leo Malet's first, 120 Rue de Gare, from
>1943. I'm really enjoying it, but I have a few questions:
>The little bio in the front of the Pan translation wrote: "In 1943,
>inspired by the American writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,
>he created Nestor Burma, . . ." How well distributed were Hammett and
>Chandler in France? Sure, Hammett came out earlier, but Chandler's
>first novel, The Big Sleep, came out in 1939. Did it really get
>translated and distributed in France at the beginning of the war? The
>book talks a lot about rationing. Wasn't paper rationed, too? Did the
>pulps with Chandler's earlier stories make it to France?
>There is also a gap in Malet's bio between 1940 and 1943. Was he,
>perhaps, a POW as his hero is at the beginning of this book?
>Finally, is there really a rue Alfred-Jarry in Lyon? Or is it just a
>former surrealist's nod to the author of the Ubu plays (one of which was
>much later adopted as the name of the great punk band Pere Ubu)? I mean
>a major plot point revolves around the bibliography of another
>surrealist favorite, the Marquis de Sade.

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