The tale, not the teller
I’m returning to a lot of old favourites at the moment – I might explore the reasons for that in another blog – and as I planned another raid on the shelves of the London Library for Maigret novels I reflected not for the first time on the discrepancy between the man and the books. It is telling that I do think of Maigret novels rather than Simenon novels. Simenon was fantastically prolific: according to the Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to Murder he wrote 84 Maigrets, over 500 pulp novels under pseudonyms, and around 350 darker psychological thrillers, usually featuring people on the verge of moral and emotional collapse. I much prefer the Maigret novels. Simenon himself certainly had a dark side. He behaved badly to the women in his life, particularly his daughter, and was a compulsive womaniser, claiming to have had sex with hundreds of women. He may or may not have been a collaborator during the war, but he certainly did not cover himself in glory. In short he was not much like his most famous character, Maigret, who is devoted to Madame Maigret, lives a solid bourgeois existence, and provides the moral touchstone of the novels. Maigret is empathetic to a high degree, with a deep understanding of the hopes and fears of the people he moves, the petty criminals, the prostitutes, the working classes and the struggling lower middle classes trying to cling to gentility. So, have I stopped reading Maigret novels because I disapprove of Simenon? Of course not. And I haven’t stopped reading Dickens because he treated his wife appallingly, either. So where would I’d draw the line and is there even a line to be drawn? I think there is, that I can conceive of a writer whose character and behaviour was so repugnant that I wouldn’t want to read his or her novels.