RARA-AVIS: Simenon -- The Snow was Black

From: Mbdlevin@aol.com
Date: 31 Aug 2003

I'm going to sneak in under the wire on Simenon month. I read a non-Maigret novel from 1950 called "The Snow was Black," translated by Louise Varese. I think this title was on the E. Borgers list of recommended Simenon, but I can't remember for sure. This is a bleak, bleak novel set in occupied France. Our amoral hero Frank has something of Meursault about him, and like "The Stranger," the book contains a period of self-contemplation while in prison. At one point, Frank vaguely explains himself by saying, "I am not a fanatic, nor an agitator, nor a patriot. I am a rotter." He also has something of the motiveless malignity of Iago about him. He commits a series of crimes (beginning with a first murder, which he likens to losing his virginity), each more and more horrible. We not only see a slice of fear and hunger in wartime France
(unnamed city), but also the workings of a small time brothel run by Frank's mother. The book is heavily ruminative at times -- a characteristic that might put some readers off. The action slows once Frank is arrested, but we get some great passages. One doesn't see writing like the following in much (any?) contemporary crime fiction:

"He was lying flat on his stomach, and it hurt. A whole lot of little bones and muscles hurt him, not all at once, not all together, but according to a regular order that he was beginning to recognize, and that he had learned to orchestrate like a symphony. There were grave, dark pains, and acute pains, so sharp that they made you see everything a pale yellow. There were certain ones that only lasted a few seconds, but that were voluptuous because of their intensity so that you regretted their disappearance, while others formed a background, mingling and harmonizing so completely that in the end you would be incapable of putting your finger on the sensitive spot."


How about a month of Highsmith?

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