A Sunday in May—a Sunday like any other at the popular inn on the Riviera, except that this is the day Emile, the chef and proprietor, is preparing to murder his wife. He has rehearsed for a year. Ada, his mistress, is waiting on tables. His wife is ready for lunch before writing checks for the customers. Emile is in the kitchen. Everything is set.
Simenon has a talent for taking a fraudulent and dysfunctional marriage and turning it upside down in a sinisterly dark manner. He takes the reader on the emotional and mental rollercoaster of his dark characters. He has a gift for noir that’s psychologically taunting.
Emile’s character is fully developed, we learn of inner most feelings and thoughts, back story, whereas Berthe’s character development is subdued but her deeper layers are revealed in scattered pieces towards the very end. I like the ambiguity Simenon created with Berthe’s feelings of Emile – love, possession or merely saving face. Their agreement to carry on to save embarrassment is unilateral frustrating Emile further.
The ending demonstrates Berthe’s true colors, backing up Simenon’s decision to keep her character under wraps until she bursts through the finish line, her stealth move leaving Emile in the dust. Nice major twist closes the character gap, as always Simenon never fails to surprise and deliver an edge to his inscrutable cast and narrative, the ending always immensely gratifying.
Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed.
He is best known, however, for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Maigret. The first novel in the series, Pietr-le-Letton, appeared in 1931; the last one, Maigret et M. Charles, was published in 1972. The Maigret novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays. Two television series (1960-63 and 1992-93) have been made in Great Britain.
During his “American” period, Simenon reached the height of his creative powers, and several novels of those years were inspired by the context in which they were written (Trois chambres à Manhattan (1946), Maigret à New York (1947), Maigret se fâche (1947)).
Simenon also wrote a large number of “psychological novels”, such as La neige était sale (1948) or Le fils (1957), as well as several autobiographical works, in particular Je me souviens (1945), Pedigree (1948), Mémoires intimes (1981).
In 1966, Simenon was given the MWA’s highest honor, the Grand Master Award.
In 2005 he was nominated for the title of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian). In the Flemish version he ended 77th place. In the Walloon version he ended 10th place.