A Portrait of Georges Simenon
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 Many writers--as Marnham (Trail of Havoc, 1988) points out--head off biographers by destroying their papers. But Simenon (1903-89) left behind so many sources--a massive autobiography, 21 volumes of memoirs, and several earlier autobiographical sketches and novels-- that Marnham defines his job, with undue modesty, largely as referee to the phenomenally productive author's many versions of his life. The facts of Simenon's life are as florid as any biographer could wish. Self-taught reporter and columnist at age 15; intimate of Josephine Baker and Maurice Vlaminck; bestselling (500 million copies) author of over 200 novels (76 featuring Inspector Maigret) and 188 additional potboilers (written with a working vocabulary of 2,000 words); self-confessed lover of 10,000 women; recipient of tributes from fellow authors as diverse as Thornton Wilder, Henry Miller, and AndrÇ Gide--the public events of Simenon's life are fabulous. But Marnham is at his best not in detailing Simenon's successes but in illuminating the relation between his gray, guilt-ridden fiction and his tormented family life--whether the family is that of his adored father and despised mother; his complaisant first wife, RÇgine, and his long-time mistress, Boule; or his calculating second wife, Denyse, and the string of domestic helpers who doubled as paramours. Though Marnham gets bogged down in overprecise parallels between Simenon's family problems and particular novels, his easy command of his subject's life and work allows him not only to select among competing versions of the truth but to generalize with authority about Simenon's inveterate habit of fictionalizing his own life, so that ``his account of the experience became part of the experience''--especially the experience of categorical rejection (both of and by Simenon), which Marnham sees as decisive for an understanding of the man and his work. A biographical study that goes a long way toward illuminating the mystery of Simenon's life in fiction while fostering a healthy respect for that irreducible mystery--the process by which Simenon kept obsessively reinventing himself. (Photographs)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-20171-4
Page count: 346pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993