Friday 24 August 2018

Forgotten Book - The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien

Georges Simenon's early (1931) Maigret novel The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, has also had several other titles. These include The Crime of Inspector Maigret (sacre bleu!) and Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets. Personally, I'd have been inclined to call it simply The Hanged Man, as the new title is a bit of a mouthful, but perhaps the shorter version didn't seem distinctive enough.

The version I read was the translation from 2014 by Linda Coverdale, published by Penguin. The translation struck me as exceptionally readable and gripping, and credit must go to Coverdale as well as to Simenon. In my youth, I found some of the translations of Simenon that I read rather drab, but the more recent ones that I've come across are more appealing. Perhaps, also, I've become more interested in Simenon as I've got older. Despite his huge popularity, he is, for some, an acquired taste.

In this book, Maigret is working in Belgium when he sees a poorly dressed man posting a large number of banknotes to an address in Paris. Intrigued, the detective follows the man and - extraordinarily but somehow characteristically - switches the suitcase the man is carrying for another. This crucial plot development, unlikely yet arresting, seems to me to typify Simenon.

The man discovers the switch and promptly commits suicide. Even Maigret's customary calm is slightly ruffled by this shocking development. So what was in the man's suitcase - a fortune in banknotes? No, an old, bloodstained suit. What on earth is going on?

As Maigret follows a strange trail, and risks his life on more than one occasion, he comes across an odd group of individuals linked together by past events. Like all the other Maigret novels I've read, this is a short, snappy book, and it's probably the Maigret that I've most enjoyed reading. Maigret's actions are sometimes improbable, but Simenon's gift is to make them seem psychologically plausible. The same goes for the behaviour of the other characters in this entertaining story. 


Rick Robinson said...

I've read about a dozen of these, but not this one, which sounds especially good. Time to see if I have it on the shelf, under one of those titles, since I bought about 30 of them in the early Nineties.

Mister Tolley said...

Many years ago, and only with a pretty pathetic O level in French, I had a go at a couple of Maigret novels in the original language, and I found them pretty easy to follow. I think Simenon wrote in a fairly simple, plain style. Which might explain why some translations seem a bit flat - that maybe his style.

Martin Edwards said...

Rick, I do think it is a good one, well worth a look.

Martin Edwards said...

Good point, Mister Tolley.

Christophe said...

I have read several Simenon books, both Maigret and "romans durs", all in French. His sentence structures are indeed simple and the vocabulary mostly limited to common words. However, I would not call this intentionally simple style in the French original texts "flat". On the contrary, I would call it elegant in its incisive simplicity. (Many good writers, like Italo Calvino and Willem Elsschot consider good writing an act of removal, of winning down.)

Consequently, I suspect that the style of older Maigret translations into English having been "a bit flat" should be attributed to the translators rather than the original texts. Traduttore, Traditore.

I am very happy to hear, here and on other blogs, that the more recent Maigret translations are doing the original French texts greater justice.

Martin Edwards said...

Good point, Christophe. I think you are right about the translations.

Tim said...

Martin, thanks! I like Simenon, but had not read this one. I really enjoyed it, and it strikes me as a really good example of why I like Simenon.