La tête d’un homme by George Simenon

I find it hard to believe that this is a B2 book, it seems easier than that to me. Maybe that’s because so much of Maigret is formulaic. You know the regular characters, you know there’s going to be a pipe and tobacco and smoke, cafés and boissons, a murder here, a suspect there. A chase. The Seine.  Maybe that’s why I found this B2 much easier than the last. Maybe I’m not really better at French, only at reading Maigret.

Remarkably good – I’m looking forward to reading the non-facile version when I spot a copy at the market. There are various cinematic productions of it, the earliest one from the 1930s looks like the most interesting, but as (more or less) no French movies have French subtitles, I’m not rushing out to get it.

You can see the introduction to the English Penguin edition here and it gives some interesting background:

When Simenon wrote La Tête d’un homme (originally translated as A Battle of Nerves) it was 1930, he was staying at a small hotel in Paris and he was at a turning point in his career. Over a period of five years, using eighteen different pseudonyms (notably ‘Georges Sim’) he had become one of the most successful authors of pulp fiction in France, publishing up to forty-four titles a year. But Simenon wanted much more than the fame and wealth he had won so quickly as a popular author. From now on he would write under his own name and he would aim for the Nobel Prize. Crime fiction was to be the first step on that road.

In September 1930 he had already completed four of the Maigret series, though none had been published. They were to be launched at a wild party thrown the following February at a nightclub in Montparnasse. Four hundred guests were joined by as many gatecrashers, the cost of the whisky and champagne exceeded Fayard’s entire publicity budget and Simenon had to cover the deficit. It was money well spent. Eleven Maigret titles had been published by the end of the year. He wrote four more in 1932, two in 1933 and then, after nineteen titles, sent Inspector Maigret into retirement, intending never to write another. Instead he would concentrate on his romans durs or ‘novels of destiny’. But it didn’t work out like that. After an interval of six years, with the outbreak of war and a young son to raise in uncertain times, worrying about his health (although he saw no military service), Simenon revived his most popular creation. Over the following thirty-three years he was to write a further fifty-seven Maigrets. And when in February 1972 he finally exhausted his creative impulse and wrote his last novel – the last of 193 ‘Simenons’ – it was a Maigret.

I’m glad Simenon thought a lot of his non-Maigret books too, believing myself that they are some of the most important literature of the mid-twentieth century. One should not be surprised, therefore, that he didn’t receive a Nobel prize. He was nominated seven times in the 1950s and 1960s. If only he’d written bad poetry and set it to music. He might’ve made more money and won the Nobel too.

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3 thoughts on “La tête d’un homme by George Simenon

  1. Hmmmmm, Maigret tip toeing through the tulips certainly would have deserved a Nobel Prize– I like it.

    • Once one might have argued he could never be a candidate given his commercial success, but that was before Bob.

      • I was sorely dismayed with this years selection too. Good for you mentioning this. I found it humorous

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