The curtain rises, by way of a nice analogy to the movement of fish, on a working-class riverside neighbourhood that has the appearance of “a stage set or rather a self-contained world heavy with reality.” That attention to setting doesn’t mean much in terms of plot, but it does suggest a kind of fish-bowl like focus on the Charenton neighbourhood Maigret has been called to, a focus complemented by the fact that there are only a couple of characters we spend any time with. This is a minimalist Maigret and it plays well alongside the usual jerkiness of the prose. At least we don’t feel like we’re being jerked around such great distances.
Émile Ducrau isn’t one of Simenon’s more interesting or complex creations, in my opinion, and what’s odd is how we’re supposed to read Maigret’s response to him. Even before their first meeting, on discovering evidence of Ducrau’s boorishness, Maigret is beaming with pleasure. Later, as audience to further displays of just how obnoxious Ducrau is, our hero is described as “reveling in the company of someone who was really worth knowing.” In what regard? In what ways, aside from the physical (which is always important in these books), is he a match for Maigret? Why the build up to so many of their “man to man” conversations, turning them into epic competitions? One can understand Ducrau’s respect for Maigret, but is it reciprocated? By the end Maigret will see in the blasted Ducrau something “tragic but also rather ridiculous and contemptible.” But has this been a tragic fall? Ducrau had been a pig right from the start. A rich pig, but still a pig. So what does Maigret see in him that’s so fascinating or enjoyable? In Maigret at Picratt’s there will be an even more extreme example of this odd sort of connection being made, with Maigret finding a sleazy strip-club operator to be disturbingly simpatico. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to take this.
And what’s this about Maigret retiring? How old is he anyway? I’m sure that’s not going to last. There’s still a rather long shelve of books to get through.