cover image Simenon: A Biography

Simenon: A Biography

Pierre Assouline. Alfred A. Knopf, $32.5 (447pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40285-5

The life of Belgian writer Georges Simenon (1903-1989) is a tale of rags to wretched excess. Precocious and prodigious in word and deed, Simenon landed his first newspaper job at 16 and by his late 20s had cranked out volumes of pseudonymous pulp novellas. In 1931 he told one interviewer, ""My ambition is to produce semi-literary novels as a step toward rising to the class of a Jack London, or, who knows? maybe one day a Conrad."" Three years later he published Maigret, the first of more than 75 books starring the famous curmudgeonly working-class inspector of the same name. Over the years that followed, Simenon would write more than 200 books, which with translations into dozens of languages brought him international literary stardom. But years of infidelities, extravagances and shifting loyalties may have denied him the professional credibility for which he yearned. Assouline (whose previous subjects have included D.H. Kahnweiler and Gaston Gallimard) was given unprecedented access to Simenon's considerable personal papers and has proved himself worthy of that trust. He describes Simenon's capacious appetites, but always with an eye to illumination rather than titillation. Assouline's interviews with Simenon's ex-wife, sons and companions reveal the human side of a somewhat monstrous man. Scholarly Simenonists will be delighted to find in the back of the book exhaustive lists of everything by or about Simenon, including a filmography. One minor flaw: coy references to the horrible secret which drives Simenon's daughter Marie-Jo into deep depression seem inappropriate in a book that candidly examines the most unusual arrangements chez la famille Simenon. Photos not seen by PW. (June)