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Simenon in Lakeville

A one-time Lakeville resident, the Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-1989), has landed a new generation of fans.

Penguin Classics is reissuing the entire series of Inspector Jules Maigret crime books in new translations. 

Maigret figured in 76 novels and 28 short stories published between 1931 and 1972.

Since 2016, Great Britain’s ITV has featured Rowan Atkinson in the lead role. Shows are set in Paris but sometimes filmed elsewhere. Michael Gambon played the pipe-puffing crime solver in one earlier series from 1992-1993 and there have been other TV and film versions.

Simenon and his family (his Canadian wife, Denyse Ouimet, and children) lived at Shadow Rock Farm, just south of  Lake–ville  village, for five years.

Exaggerating Lakeville as “a small country town of some 25,000 inhabitants,” biographer Fenton Bresler says in “The Naked Man: The Real-Life Story of the Man Who Created Maigret” (1984): “None of the local inhabitants who knew the Simenon family there from July 1950 to March 1955 know why this celebrated French writer, with his strange ways, burst upon their small town or why, with equal abruptness, he left them without even a farewell party for his friends to mark the occasion.”

Reporters Mara Scherbatoff and Nick de Morgoli of Paris Match visited the writer for a story in the magazine’s May 16, 1953, issue. “Simenon explains that the reason he came to live in America was because he wanted  his son Marc to have an American education,” they said.

His non-Maigret book “The Death of Belle” (1952) has a Lakeville setting, though the community is not named. 

Simenon was a fast writer. His books were short. He worked out the plot resolutions as he wrote. There wasn’t much detection involved. 

His publisher couldn’t keep up with his output.

Creatively, while at Shadow Rock Farm Simenon produced 26 novels, half of them Maigrets, half romans-durs, his more literary efforts.

I’ve recently read three of his novels and while I appreciate his psychological nuances, I find them a little dated and at times unsettling.

Simenon’s lifestyle was stranger than that of his characters. 

He was a serial adulterer.

“At one point, he was living with his wife and two mistresses, and still went adventuring off with prostitutes and casual women he met in bars. ‘I would even say that sex is the only possible form of communication with women,’ Simenon once told a friend,” according to Scott Bradfield in an essay in The New York Times of Feb. 20, 2015. 

Simenon declared in 1977 that he had had sex with 10,000 women in the last 61 years.

The author apparently hasn’t raised the eyebrows of the #Metoo watchdogs.

I’m reminded of civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois being vilified for having very late in life joined the American Communist Party.

Du Bois takes a beating. But Lucille Ball joined the party, too, and her reputation stands intact?

Lucky Simenon.


The writer is senior associate editor of The Lakeville Journal.

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