Georges Simenon, the Belgian writer, who died in
1989, authored 200 novels, 150 novellas, among other works and wrote under a
couple of dozen pseudonyms. If one had counted all of Raymond Chandlerís books,
and for the hell of it, added his bar bills to make another dozen books,
Chandlerís output would still remain a small fraction of what Simenon produced.
But Simenonís work rarely features in the discussion of modern fiction. Simenon,
the man, is often thought of as a legendary lover. To have oneís fiction largely
forgotten and oneís sex adventures remembered is one of those roll of the dice
outcomes. In Simenonís case, the number of conquest he notched up with a
sniperís methodical record keeping vastly out numbered his books.
Simenonís most famous series
beginning in 1931 and ending in 1972 ran for 75 novels; the series featured the
French police detective, Inspector Julies Maigret. Simenon also wrote
literary novels. Dirty Snow falls in that category and is set in an unnamed country
during the occupation by an enemy force. It is most likely drawn on Simenonís
experience of living in France during the Nazi occupation. (Simenon was accused
of being a German collaborator during WWII and banned from writing for five
years after the war ended.) The lead character named Frank, a nineteen year old,
has killed his first man, ambushing him at night, sticking a knife in his ribs
and stealing his service revolver. Frank lives with his mother who runs a
brothel from her apartment in a building where the inhabitants are hostile to
the occupiers and to Frank and his mother, who they suspect are collaborators.
Given the soldiers and police who rule with an iron-fist in the occupation are
the paying customers at the brothel, their suspicions about Frank and his mother
Snow is a chilling example of noir fiction. Those in the
black market seize their opportunities, do business with the enemy, enrich
themselves with shady deals and murder, and soon act as if they are invincible.
The dance between the Occupation authorities and Frank and his friends slowly
reveals that behind the curtain of collaboration no one remains untainted or
safe; that while fear corrodes the morale of many, leaving an exhausted few to
draw upon the strength to resist the occupiers. As a story of occupation,
terror, hubris, secrecy and how power causes people to lose their perspective,
their sense of humanity and ultimately their life.
Dirty Snow answers the debate between what is noir and what is
Nothing is fiction rolls us through
gutter of alienation, throws dirt in our vision of pure white snow as this
example of noir writing. Simenon reminds us, that in noir, there
is no escape from the darkness of our doomed destiny.
The above piece will also run this
Friday 14 November 2008 on the Forgotten Books column. Link: http://pattinase.blogspot.com