the real simenon


In 1941, a doctor told Georges Simenon that he had two years to live. The famously prolific author eventually learned the diagnosis was wrong (he died in 1989), but the experience prompted him to start filling notebooks with anecdotes about his childhood in Liège, Belgium to his then 2-year-old son. He showed the material to André Gide, who told him to start over in the third person. Five years later, “Pedigree” was published. Simenon went on to dismiss the label “autobiographical novel,” but Luc Sante, who has written the excellent introduction to this reissue, isn’t buying it — and I don’t either. For the Mamelin household, read Simenon. For the character of Roger, read Georges. At the center is a mother, Élise (read Henriette), tormented and tormenting, “a girl from the other side of the bridges, a girl who, when she was with her sisters, spoke a language nobody could understand” married to Désiré (Simenon didn’t bother changing his father’s name). A stolid insurance salesman, Désiré adores routine so much that he sometimes seems more mechanism than man.

more from Liz Brown at the LAT here.