Book Review: The Krull House by Georges Simenon (Trans by Howard Curtis)

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Considered by Simenon to be one of his most significant novels, The Krull House was written in 1938 and first published in the UK as part of the 1955 collection A Sense of Guilt.  Revisiting themes and incidents previously explored in the 1932 Maigret novel The Flemish House, the book is infused with many of the author’s recurrent preoccupations and draws heavily from Simenon’s experiences growing up in Liège.

As the events across the continent made war an inevitable reality Georges Simenon learned that he was to become a father for the first time. Contemplating raising a child in a conflict-ridden world may explain why Simenon’s non-Maigret output written during his wife’s pregnancy was divided into two strands; reflections on fatherhood (The Strangers in the House, The Family Lie), and narratives set in the author’s homeland (The Burgomaster of Furnes).  The Krull House, originally published in the UK as Chez Krull, draws heavily from incidents and people Simenon knew in Belgium and features a motif recurrent in many Maigret novels, the withdrawn and submissive father figure.

A small canal town is the setting for a complex and unsettling examination of interwar prejudices and mob justice. An ostracised family is visited by their German cousin, Hans. The Krulls are foreigners in a close-knit community. Cornelius Krull settled in the area after the cessation of World War One’s hostilities. He is seemingly ineffectual and resigned to spending his days hidden from view in the workroom. Viewed with suspicion and contempt by their neighbours, Cornelius’ family owns a grocery shop that is heavily reliant on canal workers for trade. A fragile peace in the community and at home is shattered when Hans arrives to stay with his family.

The visitation of the Krull’s cousin, Hans, reminds the community of their ‘otherness’. Simenon’s narrative suggests people of German descent living in France in the interwar period were routinely subjected to racial abuse.

When the corpse of a young girl is fished from the local canal suspicion instantly falls on the new arrival. The Krull’s are believed to be harbouring a murderer. An entire township decides to administer justice.

Injustice and mob rule is a theme which is present in several of Simenon’s ‘Roman Durs’, most notably in Mr. Hire’s Engagement and Black Rain.  In The Krull House, the family’s shop is besieged by an angry mob seeking vengeance. The author’s concerns about crowd justice and manhunts were sparked by an incident in 1919 when his newspaper editor instructed Simenon to report on a drunken brawl. A minor fight escalated into a witchhunt. One of the men fled from the scene and was chased onto the roof of a nearby hotel. Stumbling, the man clung onto the roof edge while a crowd shouted racist abuse and bayed for his death.

Variations of the incident recur throughout Simenon’s output possibly suggesting that the author was traumatized after witnessing a crowd being whipped into a state of hatred by gossip and lies. The Krull House’s representation of naked hatred is filled with chilling intensity.  In a powerful sequence, the crowd seeks to avenge the death of a local girl by attacking the two people they believe to be responsible, Hans and his deviant cousin.

While The Krull House is superficially very similar to the Maigret novel The Flemish House, it would be foolish to dismiss the novel as a redrafting of the earlier text. Freed from the confines of a police procedural, Simenon reshaped the story’s core elements into a dark and disturbing account of paranoia still has the power to unsettle readers. Written on the eve of war it was and remains a potent and all too timely warning about the dangers of unfounded suspicion and hatred in a small community.

The Krull House is published by Penguin.

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Beyond Words Live French Literature Festival

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Institut français has announced the line-up of author events and films screenings for the 2018  Beyond Words Live French Literature Festival. The line-up features French writers joined by British and European authors.

Atiq Rahimi, Marie Darrieussecq, Laurent Gaudé, Eimear McBride, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Esther Kinsky are among the 40 writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists taking part in 30 events ranging from talks and panel discussions to performances and films.

Opening the festival on 14 May, a series of events with writers and journalists Eric Hazan, Lauren Elkin, Mitch Abidor and Paul Mason will commemorate the May ‘68 Paris uprisings.

Hugely popular in France, prize-winning writers Marie Darrieussecq (Medicis Prize), Laurent Gaudé (Goncourt Prize), Atiq Rahimi (Goncourt Prize and English PEN award), Miguel Bonnefoy (Prix du Jeune Ecrivain) will be making exceptional London appearances to talk about their recently translated novels (Being Here is Everything, Hell’s Gate, The Patience Stone, Black Sugar).

Throughout the festival, Women Writers and Rebel Ladies will be strongly represented: graphic novelists Pénélope Bagieu, Bryan and Mary Talbot will take part in a live drawing event around their books, Brazen and The Red Virgin on 15 May. On 21 May, singerFishbach will read extracts from Vernon Subutex, shortlisted for the2018 Man Booker International Prize, and perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

Special tributes will be paid to Gaston Leroux, on the occasion of his 150 birthday, and to the late Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens who published the likes of Georges Perec, Emmanuel Carrère and Marguerite Duras. The works of Marcel Proust and Roland Bartheswill also be celebrated.

There will be book signing sessions throughout the festival as well as a staged reading of Ian Soliane’s Bamako-Paris on 18 May and film adaptations including screenings of See You Up There (Pierre Lemaître), The Red Collar (Jean-Christophe Rufin) and Based on a True Story (Delphine de Vigan).

Further events with festival guests will take place in 6 other locations across the country: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Oxford and Liverpool.

The Institut français is pleased to announce the second edition of Beyond Words: a week-long Festival of French Literature, featuring a great line-up of French writers joined by British and European authors.

Atiq Rahimi, Marie Darrieussecq, Laurent Gaudé, Eimear McBride, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Esther Kinsky are among the 40 writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists taking part in 30 events ranging from talks and panel discussions to performances and films.

Opening the festival on 14 May, a series of events with writers and journalists Eric Hazan, Lauren Elkin, Mitch Abidor and Paul Mason will commemorate the May ‘68 Paris uprisings.

Hugely popular in France, prize-winning writers Marie Darrieussecq (Medicis Prize), Laurent Gaudé (Goncourt Prize), Atiq Rahimi (Goncourt Prize and English PEN award), Miguel Bonnefoy (Prix du Jeune Ecrivain) will be making exceptional London appearances to talk about their recently translated novels (Being Here is Everything, Hell’s Gate, The Patience Stone, Black Sugar).

Throughout the festival, Women Writers and Rebel Ladies will be strongly represented: graphic novelists Pénélope Bagieu, Bryan and Mary Talbot will take part in a live drawing event around their books, Brazen and The Red Virgin on 15 May. On 21 May, singer Fishbach will read extracts from Vernon Subutex, shortlisted for the2018 Man Booker International Prize, and perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

Special tributes will be paid to Gaston Leroux, on the occasion of his 150 birthday, and to the late Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens who published the likes of Georges Perec, Emmanuel Carrère and Marguerite Duras. The works of Marcel Proust and Roland Bartheswill also be celebrated.

There will be book signing sessions throughout the festival as well as a staged reading of Ian Soliane’s Bamako-Paris on 18 May and film adaptations including screenings of See You Up There (Pierre Lemaître), The Red Collar (Jean-Christophe Rufin) and Based on a True Story (Delphine de Vigan).

Further events with festival guests will take place in 6 other locations across the country: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Bath, Oxford and Liverpool.

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Programme

In May 1968, Parisian students marched down the street in protests that quickly spread throughout France. The country came to a near standstill. This exhibition of works by late French photographer Philippe Gras tells the story of May ’68, fifty years after the event. Juliette Desplat from the National Archives will give an introduction to the exhibition on 14 May.

Free access to the exhibition during La Médiathèque opening hours until 19 May

MAY MADE ME: MITCHELL ABIDOR & PAUL MASON

Talk

The mass protests that shook France in May 1968 were exciting, dangerous, creative and influential, changing European politics to this day. Mitchell Abidor, author of May Made Me(Pluto), will be discussing their legacy with Guardian journalist Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism. A Guide to Our Future (Allen Lane).

6.15pm, in English £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Mitchell Abidor, May Made Me (Pluto, May 2018)
Paul Mason, Postcapitalism. A Guide to Our Future (Allen Lane, June 2016)

A WALK THROUGH PARIS: ERIC HAZAN & LAUREN ELKIN

Talk

In A Walk Through Paris (Verso) essayist and publisher Eric Hazan takes us through the radical history of Paris, city of the May 1968 uprising, but also of Robespierre, the Commune and Jean-Paul Sartre. Drawing on his own life story and experiences during the Sixties, Eric Hazan will be in conversation with Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse. Women Walk the City.

7.15pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Eric Hazan, A Walk Through Paris, translated by David Fernbach (Verso, March 2018) Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse. Women Walk the City (Vintage, July 2017)

REDOUBTABLE

Film

dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2017, 107 mins

Paris 1967. Jean-Luc Godard, the most renowned filmmaker of his generation, is shooting La Chinoise with the woman he loves, Anne Wiazemsky. Happy, in love, magnetic, they marry. But the film’s reception unleashes in Jean-Luc a profound self-examination amplified by the events of May ’68.

8.30pm, in French with English subtitles £7

TUESDAY 15 MAY
TRANSLATING FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE WRITING

Talk

Journalist and critic Boyd Tonkin, whose 100 Best Novels in Translation is forthcoming in June (Galileo), will kick off this inaugural event for the translation strand of the festival with a conversation with Lucie Campos (head of the Book Office at the Institut français) about French and Francophone titles old and new. Followed by a selection of pitches by emerging translators about the French language books they are most excited about this year, discussed by translator Ros Schwartz and editor Ellie Steel.

5pm, in English £5

REBEL LADIES WHO ROCKED THE WORLD: PÉNÉLOPE BAGIEU, BRYAN & MARY TALBOT, IKO CHÉRIE
Talk and Live Drawing

Pénélope Bagieu’s graphic novel Brazen (Penguin) presents a series of portraits of 30 incredible women such as Josephine Baker, Peggy Guggenheim or Tove Jansson. Penelope will be discussing these rebel ladies with Mary and Bryan Talbot, who revisit the life of anarchist and Communarde Louise Michel in the graphic novel The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape).
They will be joined by DJ and singer Iko Chérie for some Little Trouble Girls sets.

6.15pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Pénélope Bagieu, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World, translated by Montana Kane (Ebury, March 2018)
Mary & Bryan Talbot, Sally Heathcote, Suffragette (Jonathan Cape, May 2014)
Mary & Bryan Talbot, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape, May 2016)

EUROPEAN LITERARY SALON: CLAIRE-LOUISE BENNETT, ESTHER KINSKY & JAKUTA ALIKA V AZOVIC
Talk

French writer Jakuta Alikavazovic (L’Olivier), British writer Claire-Louise Bennett(Fitzcarraldo), German writer Esther Kinsky (Fitzcarraldo) and Music & Literature editor (and former Man Booker International judge) Daniel Medin will be discussing non-narrative fiction in European writing today and the importance of translation in a salon style event including readings and conversations.

6.45pm, in English, French and German £7, conc. £5

 

Related / Latest Publication:

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (Fitzcarraldo, October 2015)
Jakuta Alikavazovic, L’Avancée de la nuit (Editions de l’Olivier, August 2017) Esther Kinksy, River, translated by Iain Galbraith (Fitzcarraldo, January 2018) —

LAURENT GAUDÉ

Talk

Laurent Gaudé won the Goncourt prize in 2004 for The House of Scorta. His latest novel Hell’s Gate (Gallic, tr. Emily Boyce) is a thrilling story of love, loss, revenge and redemption in Naples and beyond, in which Gaudé questions the power of origins, death and family ties. In the presence of translator Adriana Hunter.

7.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Laurent Gaudé, Death of an Ancient King, translated by Adriana Hunter (4th Estate, 2004) Laurent Gaudé, Hell’s Gate, translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken (Gallic, April 2017)

THE PHANTOM ON FILM

Talk

Celebrating Gaston Leroux’s 150th birthday, Dr Cormac Newark (Guildhall School of Music &
Drama), Dr Annette Davison (University of Edinburgh) and Dr John Snelson (Royal Opera House) will explore the very many ways opera’s most famous off-shoot, The Phantom of the Opera, has inspired and infiltrated cultures around the world, offering a rich subject for re-interpretation in media ranging from ballet to musical theatre.

8pm, in English
£7, conc. £5
Double bill Talk + Screening of The Phantom of Paradise: £15, £13 conc. & members

Related / Latest Publication: Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, translated by Mireille Ribière (Penguin Classics, April 2012)

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Film

dir. Brian de Palma, 1974, 92 mins

Composer Winslow Leach hides his wounded face beneath a sinister silver mask and writes his music for the woman he loves. Betrayed by evil producer Swan, he decides to haunt his rock palace, the Paradise. Brian de Palma’s rock opera is a flamboyant horror comedy loosely adapted from Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.

The screening will be preceded by an introduction by Dr Annette Davison (University of Edinburgh)

8.50pm, in English
£9, conc. £7
Double bill: talk + screening The Phantom on Film: £15, £13 conc. & members

 

Related / Latest Publication: Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, translated by Mireille Ribière (Penguin Classics, April 2012)

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY
MIGUEL BONNEFOY & DANIEL HAHN

Talk

A new voice in literary fiction, Franco-Venezuelan author Miguel Bonnefoy made a breakthrough with his debut Octavio’s Journey. Compared to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, his second novel Black Sugar (Gallic) tells the tale of a family’s changing fortunes in Venezuela over the course of the 20th century. Chaired by Daniel Hahn.

6pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Miguel Bonnefoy, Black Sugar, translated by Emily Boyce (Gallic, March 2018)

WRITING FOR FREEDOM: PEN WRITER ATIQ RAHIMI

Talk

Writer and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi left Afghanistan for France in the 1980s, where he spent 18 years in exile. He won the 2008 Goncourt Prize for The Patience Stone (Penguin), his first book to be written directly in French, as a way to escape the “involuntary self-censorship” he feels when writing in Persian. The novel portrays a young woman’s attempt to keep her husband alive as she rages against men, war, culture, God. Atiq Rahimi has since continued to write about language, political violence, historical belonging and migration. In partnership with English PEN who have supported the English editions of Patience Stoneand A Curse on Dostoevsky.

6pm, in English £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Atiq Rahimi, The Patience Stone, translated by Polly McLean (Vintage, January 2011)

ROLAND BARTHES: TELEVISION DEGREE ZERO

Film

dir. Terry Braun, 1992, 120 mins

Television Degree Zero was a special edition of BBC’s The Late Show (1990): a pithy deconstruction of the legacy of one of France’s most influential intellectuals, Roland Barthes, whose essay The Death of the Author first appeared in France in 1968. The screening is preceded by a selection of interview clips with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous, as part of Radical Broadcasters Theory On TV.

The screening will be preceded by an introduction by Film Critic Brian Dillon

6.30pm, in English and French with English subtitles £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Tiphaine Samoyault, Barthes. A Biography, translated by Andrew Brown (Polity Press, January 2017)

MARIE DARRIEUSSECQ

Talk

In Being Here Is Everything (Semiotext(e)) Marie Darrieussecq traces the short, obscure, and prolific life of the German expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), who despite being a woman became one of her generation’s preeminent artists. In this exceptional London appearance, Marie Darrieussecq will also be talking about her other books, including Pig Tales (Faber).

Chaired by Lisa Allardice.

7pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales, translated by Linda Coverdale (Faber&Faber, June 2003)
Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here is Everything, translated by Penny Hueston (Semiotext(e), April 2018)

PUBLISHING À LA FRANÇAISE: FRÉDÉRIC BOYER, ATIQ RAHIMI & MARIE DARRIEUSSECQ
Talk and Screening

Talented French publisher and film director Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, founder of POL, died in January 2018. In a series of pop-up readings introduced by writer and translator Frédéric Boyer, two of Paul’s authors, Goncourt prize winner Atiq Rahimi and Medicis prize winner Marie Darrieussecq, will be joined by guests Catriona Seth, Adrian Rifkin, Christopher MacLehose, Dominic Glynn and Stefan Tobler will read from some of the best books he published: Georges Perec, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Louis Schefer, Olivier Cadiot, Emmanuelle Pagano, Emmanuel Carrère… Followed by an exceptional screening, in French, of Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens’ film Editeur.

8pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales, translated by Linda Coverdale (Faber&Faber, June 2003)
Marie Darrieussecq, Being Here is Everything, translated by Penny Hueston (Semiotext(e), April 2018) Atiq Rahimi, The Patience Stone, translated by Polly McLean (Vintage, January 2011)

THE RED COLLAR

Film

dir. Jean Becker, 2018, 83 mins

Adapted from The Red Collar by Prix Goncourt winner Jean-Christophe Rufin, Jean Becker’s WW1 drama tells the story of a war hero, held prisoner in an abandoned barracks under the crushing heat of summer, and awaiting his interrogation by a corrupt judge to the sound of his mangy dog barking night and day.

8.40pm, in French with English subtitles £11, conc. £9

Related / Latest Publication:

Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Red Collar, translated by Adriana Hunter (Europa Editions, July 2015)

Jean-Christophe Rufin, The Santiago Pilgrimage: Walking the Immortal Way, translated by Malcolm Imrie (MacLehose Press, April 2017)

THURSDAY 17 MAY
NOÉMI LEFEBVRE, EIMEAR MCBRIDE & FRESH FRENCH VOICES

Talk

Noémi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait (Les Fugitives) is a novel of angst and high farce, caught between contrary impulses to remember and to ignore. She will be in conversation with Baileys Prize for Women’s fiction winner Eimear McBride, whose latest novel is The Lesser Bohemians (Faber). Chaired by translator Sophie Lewis.

Following this dialogue, Noemi will be joined by two up and coming writers from Editions
Verticales: Pierre Senges, known for his radio adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, as well as for his quirky, poetic Lichtenberg Fragments (Dalkey Archive), and Quebec-born Hélène Frédérick. Conversations with the writers will be accompanied by a series of readings on realism, literary debt and new forms of writing, introduced by Emmanuel Bouju (IUF) and Jeanne Guyon (Verticales).

6.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Noémi Lefebvre, Blue Self-Portrait, translated by Sophie Lewis (Les Fugitives, June 2017)
Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians (Faber&Faber, September 2016)
Hélène Frédérick, Forêt Contraire (Verticales, February 2014)
Pierre Senges, Antonio de Guevara, The Major Refutation, translated by Jacob Siefring (Contra Mundum Press, December 2016)

Pierre Senges, Fragments of Lichtenberg, translated by Gregory Flanders (Dalkey Archive Press, January 2017)

SEE YOU UP THERE

Film

dir. Albert Dupontel, 2017, 115 mins

Winner of 5 Cesar Awards, Albert Dupontel’s crime epic is an adaptation from Pierre Lemaître’s Goncourt winning novel, Au revoir là-haut. In November 1918, Edouard Pericourt, a gifted artist, saves the life of Albert Maillard, a humble bookkeeper. The two men have nothing in common apart from their experience of war and their hatred for Lieutenant Pradelle. Introduced by translator Frank Wynne.

8.40pm, in French with English subtitles £11, conc. £9

Related / Latest Publication: Pierre Lemaître, The Great Swindle, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, November 2016)

FRIDAY 18 MAY

BAMAKO-PARIS

Staged Reading

 

Ibou, a Malian stowaway hanging on to the landing gear of an Airbus A320 heading for Paris, is talking to us about his future, his hopes, the mad idea that germinated in his mind. The idea of hanging on to a landing gear. The monologue is intersected by the post-mortem of his own body, sixteen hours later, the corpse lying on the autopsy table in a room of the Paris Forensic Medical Institute. A burning topic of our time, handled with a solemnity that doesn’t dismiss humour.

Staged reading of Ian Soliane’s play Bamako-Paris (translated by Felicity Davidson) as part of the Institut français’ Cross-Channel Theatre programme, directed by Kimberley Sykes, with Clifford Samuel as Ibou.

2pm, in English £7, conc. £5

PROUST IN JUST ONE HOUR

Performance

In a special live performance, Véronique Aubouy heroically attempts to sum up the whole story of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for her audience in just an hour. Fascinated by this extraordinary novel, one of France’s favourite books of all time, Véronique is able to bring to stage the complex world and characters’s of this intricate plot: whether you have read the book or not, prepare to spend an hour exploring its world. Introduced by Christopher Prendergast (King’s College Cambridge).

7.30pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication:

Véronique Aubouy, Mathieu Riboulet, A la lecture (Grasset, September 2014)
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. Volume 1: The Way by Swann’s, translated by Lydia Davis, edited by Christopher Prendergast (Penguin, October 2003)

BEAUTY AND THE DOGS

Film

dir. Kaouther Ben Hania, 2017, 100 mins

During a student party, Mariam, a young Tunisian woman, meets the mysterious Youssef and leaves with him. A long night begins, during which she’ll have to fight for her rights and her dignity in the hands of a gang of dirty cops. Tunisian author and director Kaouther Ben Hania depicts an edifying portrait of her country poisoned by corruption and male chauvinism.

8.30pm, in Arabic with English subtitles £12, conc. £10

Related / Latest Publication: Meriem Ben Mohamed, La Belle et la Meute (Michel Lafon, October 2017) –
SATURDAY 19 MAY
CAFÉ PHILO

Talk

Led by Christian Michel, this special edition of the Café Philo will be the occasion to discuss the legacy of May 68 and its commemorations today, starting with the question: “Was the May 68 movement elitist, anti- populist and anti-democratic?”

 

10.30pm, in English £2

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Film

dir. Roman Polanski, 2017, 110 mins

Adapted from Delphine de Vigan’s award-winning novel by Roman Polanski and Olivier Assayas, Based on a True Story blurs the line between reality and fiction. Overwhelmed by the success of her latest novel, Delphine can’t find the strength to write. She gradually realises that the smart and intuitive Elle is not exactly the good friend she claims to be.

8.30pm, in French with English subtitles £12, conc. £10

Related / Latest Publication: Delphine de Vigan, Based on a True Story, translated by George Miller (Bloomsbury, September 2017)

SUNDAY 20 MAY

LES DEUX ANGLAISES ET LE CONTINENT

Film

dir. François Truffaut, 1971, 132 mins

Ten years after Jules et Jim, Truffaut turned his attention back to the love triangle and another novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. This time the setting is a Welsh coastal resort, and the protagonists a young French writer and two English sisters. One of Truffaut’s most personal and romantic films.

2pm, in French with English subtitles £9, conc. £7

Related / Latest Publication: Henri-Pierre Roché, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent (Gallimard, April 1956)

MONDAY 21 MAY 2018
CLOSING EVENT: FISHBACH AND VERNON SUBUTEX

Music and Readings

An exceptional Music Rendez-Vous with singer Fishbach, combining literary and musical variations around Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes (MacLehose). Awarded a Victoire de la musique in 2017, Fishbach will be on the cast of the new TV adaptation of the book. She will read extracts from Vernon Subutex and will perform songs inspired by Despentes’ world.

7pm, in English and French £7, conc. £5

Related / Latest Publication: Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1, translated by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press, June 2017)

 

Book Review: I Am David by Anne Holm (Trans by L.W. Kingsland)

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Danish novel is a hymn to the plight of refugee children.

Since its publication in 1963, I Am David‘s reputation has continued to grow. For a continent struggling to heal the scars of recent conflicts, the story of a child discovering his identity while crossing Europe on foot resonated. At the time of Anne Holm’s death, it was reported that the book had sold in excess of two million copies.

Winner of the award for Best Scandinavian Children’s Book, I Am David is credited with introducing generations of children to the horrors of concentration camps and plight of refugees. Ranked alongside Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword, Nina Bawden’s Carries War, and Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as one of the most significant books set in or around World War Two, I Am David uses the format of an adventure story to teach children about the forgotten victims of conflict.

Unashamedly sentimental, the novel is told from the perspective of the eponymous hero. Born and raised in a concentration camp he has limited knowledge of life beyond the perimeter. One night a guard offers David an opportunity to escape. Carrying a compass, bottle of water, bar of soap, and a loaf of bread he enters a world he has never known and begins an arduous journey to Denmark.

Withholding information about the concentration camp’s location and precise date the author has attempted to create a sense of any time. David’s refusal to trust information in books printed after 1917 is the first major hint that he has previously been incarcerated in a Soviet labour camp. The precise country he has escaped from is left ambiguous although some critics have concluded it is probably Bulgaria.

Published into an era when people were fearful that the Cold War would erupt in a fresh global conflict, the book reminded readers that in eastern Europe people were still being crushed by tyranny, terror, and torture.

Despite some finely sketched atmospheric detail and moving sequences, an over-reliance on coincidence dilutes the book’s impact. David’s twin quests to find sanctuary and self-discovery are splintered by incredulous plotting which momentarily throws the reader out of the narrative. Flawed but engaging, I Am David’ has taught generations of child readers about the aftershocks of 20th-century warfare and its victims while eulogizing hope and freedom.

I Am David is published by Egmont.

Book Review: The Venice Train by Georges Simenon (Trans by Alastair Hamilton)

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Dark story of deception and anxiety.

Mid-level clerk, Julian Calmer’s life is thrown into disarray when a chance encounter on a train shatters any semblance of normality. Another example of Simenon employing an Everyman to explore the darker recesses of the human psyche. The Venice Train is a suspense-filled novella which analyses how a turning point in a life might compel an individual to walk away from a lifetime of conformity and discover their previously repressed true identity.

Julian Calmer’s life has previously been dominated by rigidity and routine. After a family holiday in Venice, he boards a train to Paris and sits across from a stranger unaware that soon his every waking moment will be filled with paranoia. Chatting with the stranger, Calmer is surprised that his fellow traveller is taking such a keen interest in the minutiae of his life. As the conversation draws to a close the stranger hands Calmer an attaché case and asks him to deliver it to an address in Lausanne.

Calmer’s decision to take possession of the case has jeopardised the safe and comfortable lifestyle he has spent years creating for his family. The stranger leaves the carriage promising to return in a moment but is never seen again. Curious about the case’s contents Calmer delivers it and discovers the lifeless body of a manicurist.

Fleeing the crime scene he returns to Paris. Opening the bag Calmer discovers a fortune in foreign currency. With a sum of money in his possession greater than what he might earn in a lifetime working for his current employer Calmer is torn between wanting to enjoy the benefits of his find and the desire to maintain the pretence of a normal lifestyle. Fearful that the criminal underworld will find him and exact some revenge for absconding with the funds he is determined to maintain a low profile until he is sure that the no evidence of a trail exists. He trawls Paris’ newspaper stands and purchases foreign publications hoping to find some information about the bag’s owner, the deceased manicurist, and current stages of the police’s investigation.

Adhering to Simenon’s template of an individual confronting a new self when faced with a change in circumstances, The Venice Train is a below-par novella from one of Europe’s most prolific writers. Barely concealed traces of the author’s misogyny are littered throughout the book. Tension and plausibility is tossed out of the window in a deeply unsatisfying final chapter which stretches credulity and reveals a tired writer going through the motions.

One for completists. Readers new to Simenon should avoid The Venice Train.

The Venice Train is currently out of print. Used copies are available to order from Amazon.

Betty by Georges Simenon (Trans by Alastair Hamilton)

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Lost soul’s facade conceals a dark past.

One of six books cited by Simenon to counter accusations of misogyny, Betty was reportedly inspired by a chance encounter with a drunken women in a Versaiiles bar. In the majority of his books Simenon’s mother is an ever-present figure. Men are represented as victims of symbolically castrating feminine forces. Temporarily jettisoning the recurrent mother motif, Betty features a traumatised woman who is a composite of Simenon and his second wife Denyse Ouime.

A twenty-eight-year-old alcoholic is seeking solace from the bottom of a glass in a bar on the Champs-Élysées. Trapped in a destructive cycle of exhibitionism and promiscuity, this depressed drunk has been cast out of the family home and denied access to her children. Potential salvation arrives when a doctor’s widow offers Betty a place to stay.

Confiding in her new found protector, Betty reveals a traumatic past. Loveless and hopeless, Simenon’s heroine is a war orphan, her father was murdered by German troops shortly before the cessation of hostilities. The irony of Simenon writing about the horrors of war and damage wrought upon survivors is not lost on Simenologists who have long been aware that he collaborated with the Vichy regime.

Betty is effectively an extended conversation with occasional flashbacks. The ending may fizzle out but this is fundamentally a book which reveals a great deal about Simenon’s neurosis and perversions. The inclusion of an incest subplot is particularly significant because during their conversation Swiss psychiatrist Dr Pierre Rentchnick noted that the author had a particular interest in familial abuse. Simenon’s daughter would take her own life in 1973 and many questions remain unanswered about the nature of her inappropriate feelings toward her father and the extent to which he may have in some way been responsible for both her lust and the eventual tragedy. This book certainly suggests he had entertained the notion of abuse.

Dark and unsettling, in this novel Betty reveals her trauma and comes close to exposing Simenon.

Betty is currently out of print. Used copies are available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By by Georges Simenon (Trans by Siân Reynolds)

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Madman on the run seeks refuge in Paris’ seedy underbelly.

A notorious frequenter of brothels, Simenon boasted of visiting thousands of sex workers. His experiences in houses of ill repute, cheap backstreet hotels, and conversations with prostitutes were mined for a credible recreation of a shadowy world filled with dawn police raids, jealous pimps, and treacherous friends. An ice cold naked city seen through the eyes of a man rapidly losing his grip on reality, The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By is a supreme novel that explores many of the writer’s recurrent preoccupations and asks if truth is absolute.

Everyman Kees Popinga’s life falls apart when he learns that his employer has gone bankrupt and is about to flee from his creditors. Popinga has lived a life of strict routine in the Dutch city Groningen. A respectable mid-level executive with a wife and two children, thirty-nine-year-old Popinga travels to Amsterdam and attempts to seduce his former boss’ mistress. Convinced that his previous life was a form of self-deception, he views the probable imminent loss of family and home as an opportunity to discover his true identity.

Feeling emasculated after his boss’s former mistress laughs at his request he strangles her and boards a train to Paris unaware that he has killed the woman.

Hiding in France he mingles with the criminal underworld and finds temporary refuge in prostitutes boudoirs. Shortly after his arrival newspapers print stories about the murder of his boss’ mistress. Enraged at innacurate reporting Popinga writes to the papers to correct the information they are presenting about him and his crime. Deliberately ambiguous, at least initially, Simenon plays with the reader suggesting that a similar transformation of fortunes could transform anyone into the person Popinga has become.

Swiss psychiatrist Dr Pierre Rentchnick interviewed Simenon and published a paper entitled Simenon sur le gril. The psychiatrist who had spent a day questioning the author would later state ‘We all thought he was schizoid but we did not want to write that.’ The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By is a study of psychosis and it is highly probable that Simenon was using the format of a thriller to dramatise his personal desires and torments. Rentchnick’s study revealed that Simenon was an exhibitionist seemingly trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence so writing a wish fulfillment novel is no less improbable than the author’s oft quoted claims to have slept with 10,000 women.

Powerfully evocative The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By contains details plucked from Simenon’s life. Popinga’s arrival at Gare du Nord and subsequent discovery of back streets filled with street walkers recalls a similar journey made by Simenon in 1922.

Supremely crafted this taut exploration of dark desire and insanity is one of Simenon’s greatest novels.

The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By is published by Penguin.

Book Review: The Pitards by Georges Simenon (Trans by David Bellos)

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Disappointing novel offers few glimpses of Simenon’s greatness.

Determined to retire his most famous creation Inspector Maigret, Simenon intended to focus on writing literary fiction. Simenon used the term ‘roman dur’ to refer to his portraits of deviance. Freed from the crime genre’s conventions he explored themes present in the Maigret novels without the restriction of having to include a police investigation and a tidy resolution.

The famously prolific author was determined that his literary reputation would be based solely on these studies of aberrant behaviour and psychological torment. Unflinching in their examination of moral, social, and sexual transgressions, the novels presented accounts of people transformed by a moment of crisis. Unremittingly pessimistic, the 171 roman durs suggest that in an unstable world a change of fortune can shatter the veneer of a normal existence and transform an individual into a murderer, thief, or a sexual deviant. In Simenon’s fictional universe the everyman has lived a repressed life and is finally set free once their basest desires are revealed to the world.

The extent to which Simenon succeeded in transforming his reputation from that of a producer of well-crafted pulp fiction to a master of literary novels is debatable. In purely commercial terms his legacy largely rests on the widely translated seventy-five Maigret novels.

Simenonlogists consider the roman durs to be the author’s most significant literary achievements. The critical breakthrough came with the publication of seafaring saga The Pitards. French newspaper Les Temps published a critical essay by André Thérive which declared ‘I believe I have just read a masterpiece in its pure state, in its basic state.’ The journalist conceded that Simenon’s productivity had previously prevented critics from taking his work seriously and suggested that if The Pitards had been his first novel ‘there would be great enthusiasm in the republic of letters.’

Significant for ensuring critics began taking Simenon seriously, The Pitards is nonetheless a minor work from a major author. Unevenly plotted, the patchy novel is a laborious read. The account of a marriage disintegrating during a voyage to Reykjavik is a muddled work which only comes alive during the final twenty pages. Simenon’s trademark atmospheric prose is not enough to lift a novel tries to simultaneously romanticize the seafaring life, settle old scores (Simenon’s mother is present in the form of the ship captain’s wife Mathilde), and offer commentary on the French class system. The text’s primary appeal is that Simenon consciously drew from his life experiences. A lesser work in comparison to the remainder of the roman durs canon, it is nonetheless a key novel to read in order to solve the mystery of Georges Simenon.

The Pitards is published by Penguin.