RARA-AVIS: Simenon

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 11 Aug 2003

I've been down in the Shenandoah Valley for the last four days enjoying nature and reading a lot of stuff. Returning today I see that no one has posted yet on the topic of the month Simenon. I just purchased four relatively rare Simenons and planned to do a post on two or three of them. Given the lack of comment, I will rush forward with a post on the one I've finished.

THE NEGRO copyrighted 1957 by Simenon with a credit line at the end that it was finished April 16, 1957 at Cannes. It was first published in English by Hamish Hamilton in 1959 and in the edition I read by Ace Books--New English Library--in 1962. I don't believe it's been published in a US edition/

The title character is a corpse found near the train tracks of a rural station somewhere between Calais and Paris. Eventually it becomes apparent that this corpse is in the center of a controversy regarding the inheritance of the richest man in town who died a few days before the corpse was discovered. Di he die by accident or by murder?

The story is told from the viewpoint of the station master, a dimwitted man of little ability who is resentful of his limited role in life. He hates the fact that he was dubbed a "non-starter" early in life and is anxious to prove everyone wrong. The discovery of the dead Negro presents him with an opportunity to better himself through blackmail. How Simenon manages to convey the basics of the plot and situation through the dim view of Theo the station master is remarkable to observe. I am of mixed view regarding this achievement. As I read it, I will confess that I found some of the novel to be tedious. It is tough being trapped in the mind of a semi-literate person for an extended period! I recognize that Simenon employed great ability in bringing forth certain plot developments through this limited peephole of a viewpoint character. I also was a bit restless. At the time of finishing the novel I would have granted him a C Plus for accepting the challenge of channeling so much through an idiot's mind. In retrospect, I have to admit that there was a touch of brilliance in this story by the Belgium master. It wasn't "instant gratification" but by damn Simenon achieved something wonderful here.

Now I would recommend you go to sample this master to THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY or THE NIGHTCLUB before this non-Magriet novel. But if you have the sensibility to appreciate a writer's art that dances close to the interest-level border line then you should enjoy this novel.

Richard Moore

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