Georges Simenon changes the definition of prolific. At the height of his writing career he was writing and publishing 13 novels a year plus 60 to 80 magazine articles. He wrote on average 60 to 80 pages a day. Even a person not worrying about literary value would struggle to write that many pages a day. The public never had to wait long for the next Simenon novel.
One day Alfred Hitchcock supposedly telephoned the author at home. "Hello may I please speak to Mr. Simenon."
"One moment, please...I'm sorry, he's just started a novel."
"That's all right, I'll wait."
I have only read a few of the 350+ books that Simenon wrote. I like to travel with a Maigret in my luggage because I find them perfect for reading in hotel rooms or on airplanes. They are compelling, but I struggled to explain their literary value until I read the following summation by an expert. Pierre Boileau a Simenon devote explains the impact that the Maigret novels had on the public. "Before the advent of the inspector no one ever reread a detective story unless they had forgotten the ending. Simenon twisted the traditional rules of the genre so thoroughly that readers did not expect clear and simple answers to the standard triad of questions (who? how? why?). The important thing was not identifying the murderer but understanding him, decoding his own enigma instead of the puzzle posed by his actions, no matter how mysterious they seemed."
Reading this book I came to admire not only the author's work ethic, but also marvel at his monumental sex drive. His second wife said that they made love three times a day and still Simenon would go visit the brothel or a mistress. He liked to write and he liked to have sex and devoted most of his day either chasing down that next word or chasing that next sexual conquest. If Simenon were writing today he would be sharing couch time with Dr. Drew and he would have loved the publicity.
Simenon was a wonderful promoter in an age when it was deemed inappropriate to hawk your own writing. At one point he was intending to lock himself in a glass booth so the public could gather and watch him write a novel. The scheme fell through, but still just promoting the nonevent sold books. He devised a ball and invited the aristocracy, homeless people and hookers. It was an event that quickly escalated out of control and was talked about for decades. He was to say the least a dynamo. Prodigious amounts of energy and always trying to make the most of every moment.
Once when greeting some journalists at the Hotel George V where he granted interviews he stated: "I'm glad you're on time. I don't mind having my wallet or some other object of value stolen, but not my time. Objects can be replaced, but who knows how much time any of us has left?"
Good advice for all of us.
I'm really glad that I read this book because now when I do read a Maigret, knowing more about his creator, I can certainly glean more from the plot with the overlay of Simenon's own life in the background of my thoughts. Well written, compelling biography about a legendary writer who certainly left his mark on detective fiction.