Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Georges Simenon: The Michael Jordan of Writing



Georges Simenon was a French writer who wrote hundreds of books, most of them featuring a detective named Inspecteur Maigret, and quite a few "serious" novels (i.e., thicker). Simenon had a full-time assistant whose only job was to remember all the books he'd written. Whenever Simenon had an idea for a new novel (every morning) he asked his assistant if he'd already written it. The assistant said, "Yes, you already wrote that one in 1937," so then Simenon would instantly get another idea and write that if he hadn't already written that one, too. It took Simenon about a week to write a detective novel and three weeks to write a "serious" one. In addition to writing thousands of books in longhand standing up at a lectern, Simenon kept a daily journal that was published after his death (thousands of pages), in which he revealed meticulously and with the kind of precision only a writer of detective fiction possesses that he had made love to thousands of women, five a day on the average. Simenon was married and lived on a barge on the Seine in Paris, so one can imagine him at his lectern early, drinking coffee and writing, while his assistant or his wife or some other employee prepares the first woman of the day for intercourse. If it's a particularly windy day, the boat is rocking, the ink in the inkwell agitates, the lectern sways, and Simenon, stylo firmly in hand and woman in flagrante, is trying to think, write and pay the flesh its due. There are often storms on the Seine.

Does Simenon sleep? It is not possible, as the French say. The grateful citizens of Simenon's birthplace have erected a statue of Inspecteur Maigret in the city square. Not a statue of Simenon, please note, but a statue of his immortal detective who is to French detective fiction what Holmes is to British and what Sam Spade to American. Now we know why Simenon kept a diary: he knew that Maigret, his creation, was going to overshadow him, so he made sure that the world would also know Simenon. And what do we find out about Simenon? We find that his case-solving imagination operated in a dense erotic atmosphere, perhaps the only way it operated. If Simenon's environs were not continually eroticized, Simenon's detective, Inspecteur Maigret, could not solve cases. Each woman Simenon possessed caused Maigret to solve a novel-length crime.

There is nothing to be inferred from Simenon's particular biography. One cannot say, for instance, that no fictional crimes would ever be solved in the absence of eros. Nor can one say that this male artist and his muse(s) are an extreme illustration of some basic scribberly pathology. I, who have created neither an immortal detective nor a dumbwaiter perpetually bringing muses up to my lectern, can honestly say that I don't remember if I ever wrote this column before or not. I need an assistant.

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