Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Yellow Dog

Yellow Dog: Georges Simenon.

The one thing "everyone" knows about Georges Simenon is that he had sex- or claimed to have had sex- with 10,000 women. What a sleaze, eh? And working from this knowledge you'd expect the books to be heartless and amoral.

Only they're not.

Yellow Dog is an early Maigret. And it's not only a moral book, it's a fiercely moral book which tears into the hypocrises and snobberies of French provincial life. (No provincial town is as provincial as a French provincial town- unless it's a Russian one).  The suspects in the case are a set of flash, conceited, ageing, small town playboys- and Simenon hates them with a passion-  skewering them for their abuse of class privilege and their heartless exploitation of working-class women. Against them he sets the bulk of his favourite detective- a man of rock-solid, bourgeois virtue, uncowed by money or rank- who dispenses justice not so much according to law but according to his own deeply internalised ideals of justice and fairplay, putting down the mighty from their seat and exalting the humble and meek. 

Maigret is that rare thing- a virtuous character who isn't a bore. And how odd that it took a "bad" man like Simenon to create him. Or perhaps not so odd.  We exoticize the unattainable- and for Simenon- hag-ridden by his sexuality-  the bourgeois virtues were unattainable. Maigret is kind, cosy, self-contained, sexually continent- and to Simenon these things are thrilling. Maigret can look at a draggle-tailed barmaid and his first impulse isn't to shag her but to uncover and reignite the tamped down embers of her humanity. Simenon feels- and makes us feel- just how wonderful this is.
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