An odd entry, even by today’s standards of metafiction. But it seems a truism that any serial or franchise that goes on long enough will take a turn toward, or at least dip a toe into, this sort of playfulness.
The idea here is that Maigret has taken over authorial duties, wanting to set the record straight. This fellow Simenon with his “semi-literature” (a sort of halfway house between pulp fiction and serious literary novels) has done a good enough job, and sold a lot of books, but he hasn’t really gotten inside Maigret’s head. So the chief inspector takes the time here to give a fuller account.
Which means we have two Maigrets, both fictional creations of Georges Simenon, with this one being a device used to comment on the one we’re more familiar with. Except I see the two as basically joined at the hip, and what’s really happening is we’re getting a deeper dive into the same character.
Despite the fact that there’s no mystery, or even plot at all, with the book only providing a collection of biographical notes, I found it quite interesting. Maigret talks a bit about his joining the police as a calling, imagining himself as being like a doctor in understanding and treating people’s lives. And at times this turns into something even more grand:
I had the obscure feeling that too many people were not in their rightful places, that they were making an effort to play roles they were not suited to, and that consequently, the game, for them, was lost in advance.
I really do not want it to be thought that I had any pretensions to one day become that kind of God the father.
But in an earlier novel Simenon had suggested the connection between Maigret’s understanding of the lives of the people involved in a case as being akin to that of God the father. Is Maigret trying to correct this impression now, or is Simenon underlining it? Or both?
Simenon, who we actually get to meet at the start of the book as Maigret gives him a tour of the Quai des Orfèvres, tells Maigret that he isn’t interested in professional criminals or even crimes of passion. Maigret later returns to this, saying that the sorts of crimes “that interest novelists and so-called psychologists, are so uncommon that they take up only an insignificant part of our activities.”
And yet it is those that the public knows best. It is those cases that Simenon has mostly written about and will, I assume, continue to write about.
I mean crimes that are suddenly committed in places where you would least expect them, and that are something like the end-product of a long-hidden period of fermentation.
Yes, that is the sort of crime Simenon is most interested in. But it’s the sort of crime Maigret responds to most vigorously as well. It’s also a bit the same for Poirot, who says at one point that he has no interest in maniac killers, but only those driven by the two main engines of murderous passion: sex and greed. But for Christie mystery-solving is all about unraveling the twists in a crazily complicated plot, whereas for Simenon it has more to do with digging into a character’s past and that long-hidden period of fermentation.