Friday, September 18, 2020

Two revived Maigrets

I was lucky enough to get e-galleys for two forthcoming Penguin editions of classic Maigret novels in Penguin's project of publishing all of them. The two I read in the past couple of weeks are Maigret and the Killer and Maigret's Childhood Friend, two novels from the late '60s that have several interesting things in common. But before talking about links between the two, I have a few comments about reading Simenon after a long period of not reading him.

I had forgotten how visual Simenon's writing is. Both these novels, especially in the first half of the books, is full of visual details and vivid descriptions of the streets of Paris and the denizens thereof. As is common in the Maigret books, the latter half of the books is mostly interviews or interrogations, and Maigret's musings about the cases, in writing that is still vivid, but more verbal than visual.

Maigret has a peculiar relationship with a suspect in each of the two novels I read. In Killer, the detective establishes communication with the murderer and has evidence in hand that, if published in the newspapers, would most likely lead to his identification. But Maigret holds off, and ultimately even welcomes the killer into his own house. I'll leave it to you to discver why the policeman proceeds in this peculiar manner.

In Childhood Friend, the titular friend is a comic figure, and the whole novel has a comic, even farcical, quality. And the friend is the clear suspect in the murder of his lover (who has four other lovers, only one of whom knows about the others--one of the farcical qualities of the story). But Maigret is not defending his friend--he seems to have contempt for him, and he was not even really a friend, though he was a classmate in the rural town where they grew up. Again, you'll need to read the book to discover the detective's reason for holding off on the arrest of this non-friend, against all of the evidence.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Two newly translated Italian novels (not crime fiction)

Gianrico Carofiglio is, among other things, a crime fiction writer, but his newly translated novel, Three O'Clock in the Morning, only shows a momentary. crime. The pseudonymous Elena Ferrante does not write crime fiction, but there are several crimes lying behind the story of her new novel, The Lying Life of Adults. Both are extremely succesful writers in their native Italy and beyond.

Three O'Clock is adventure, in a sense: a teenage boy who has been suffering with epilepsy travels with his father to a famous clinic in Marseilles, for a final meeting with the doctor who will let him know about his future with the disease. The doctor persuades them to try what is essentially an experiment, a stress test: to stay in Marseilles two additional nights, without sleep and without medication.

Carofiglio follows their adventure as both an experience in itself and the process of a somewhat estranged father and son getting to know one another for the first time. The result is engaging and intriguing,  essentially a philosophical novel without any heavy baggage but with numerous excursions into significant thoughts and emotions.

Ferrante's novel revisits some of the themes of her famous Neapolitan Quartet, but

with several significant differences. The narrator is looking back at a significant block of her teenage years, from 12 to 16, and her foil in these years is not a genius friend (the "amica geniale of the series) but an aunt, her father's sister, who had previously been a kind of family ogre or boogyman, but a casual remark by her father thrusts the daughter and the aunt together and begins an involving and even riveting story.

This is also a philosophical novel in many ways, but as always with Ferrante, the language is simple and yet beautiful. She doesn't challenge the reader with deep thoughts, she leads us through the thoughts and emotions of her characters (mainly the narrator and her former self as a girl). This is a bit shorter than the individual novels of the series, but covers significant territory, and continues the brilliance of Ferrante's work.