February 13, 2010
GEORGES SIMENON (1903-89) was the Wilt Chamberlain of continental peri-WWII pulp writers, claiming a ridiculous 10,000 inamorata to accompany his equally preposterous (but verifiable) 400 novels. Best known for his 70-odd romans policiers featuring Inspector Maigret, Simenon’s best work was in the 117 or so small novels he called his romans durs (hard novels). His technique for writing novels was Oulipian avant la lettre — his relevant constraints were a vocabulary limit of roughly 2000 words, a handful of names taken from the phone books, a location limned by a street map of the chosen town, and he spent no more than 11-12 days writing it. Simenon’s muses were anxiety and emasculation. Channeling these, Simenon produced such blistering vignettes as Red Lights, The Widow and Tropic Moon. In the archetypal roman dur, Simenon methodically ensnares his protagonists through their own indolence, passivity, or paranoia, until brutality is inescapable. In this respect, the romans durs are the obverse of the detective novel; that is, the inevitability of violence is his focus, justice is secondary. Although it is hard to wring a moral from the tales of a seemingly amoral (or at least immoral and antihumanist) author, let’s settle for a lesson: Watch out, you’re only this far from being screwed yourself.
Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.