giovedì 26 gennaio 2017


Some surprising similarities between Rankin's and Simenon's heroes

Quelques similarités surprenantes entre les héros de Rankin et de Simenon
Alcune analogie sorprendenti tra gli eroi di Rankin e di Simenon

Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels have been translated into 26 languages and it is therefore probable that readers of Simenon-Simenon have at least some familiarity with the Edinburgh detective. At first sight, the Maigret and Rebus narratives appear to have little in common, but a closer examination reveals that the two characters share a striking number of similarities.
First, both characters have a past: Maigret in the rural Allier and Rebus in industrial Scotland. Superficially, the two areas could not be more different. The Allier of Maigret’s childhood was a region dominated by agriculture, while central Fife post-1945 was an area of coal mines and linoleum factories. Yet both places represent the past of their respective countries. Maigret and Rebus alike have their origins in a social context that is in the process of disappearing and this is reflected in their mixed feelings towards their childhood, a combination of nostalgia and disillusionment.
Maigret and Rebus both experienced the trauma of losing their mother while still young and it may be that this common experience influences their subsequent relationships with women in very different ways. On the one hand, Maigret seeks a substitute-mother figure in Madame Maigret, who, in many ways, treats him as a child, providing an ambiance of warm domesticity. Rebus, on the other hand, finds it difficult to recreate the male-female couple relationship that he has only briefly known as a child. His marriage has ended in divorce and he is unable to adapt to the responsibilities of cohabitation.
Maigret is an only child and although Rebus has a brother the two men are not close. The Maigrets’ only daughter died as a baby. In contrast, Rebus has a daughter but as a result of his divorce he feels that she is lost to him physically and emotionally. In both men, the reader encounters a kind of displaced paternalism in their relations with junior colleagues and their concern for children and young people in their investigations.
While the provincial origins of Maigret and Rebus link them to the histories of their nations, they are both long-term residents of the capital and have spent their police careers there. This makes them simultaneously insiders and outsiders, giving them detailed knowledge of the social and criminal topographies of Paris and Edinburgh but also putting them in a position to understand the perspective of newcomers.
There is also a degree of similarity in the modest social origins of the two policemen (Maigret’s father was the estate manager of the aristocratic Saint-Fiacre family and Rebus’s father a small-time entertainer) which contribute strongly to the social discomfort that they feel in the company of the wealthy. Both men detest the sense of entitlement, arrogance and condescension they perceive in this milieu, preferring the company of the ‘little people’, and they share a general disdain for electoral politics, seeing these as a façade which changes little.
In their physical appearance and personal habits, there are further similarities. Although the dress sense of Maigret and Rebus is conventional for their profession, neither is overly concerned by his appearance. Both are tall and heavily-built to the point of being overweight, in part at least due to their eating habits. Both men drink and smoke heavily, Maigret a pipe, Rebus cigarettes. Following advice, the commissaire and the inspector both make an effort to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but the reader is under no illusions that certain habits are an intrinsic part of the two men’s characters.
Maigret and Rebus are monoglots whose interactions with speakers of other languages or members of other nationalities are sometimes a source of humour. This difficulty in relating to other cultures can be seen as resulting from a shared social conservatism and in their professional lives both policemen prefer an approach to detection rooted in their sensitivity to social context and the psychology of individual suspects in opposition to the use of technology or approaches based on ‘theories’.
Maigret and Rebus both have a tendency to act on their own beliefs and impulses rather than following official procedures. Maigret conducts a number of unofficial investigations and Rebus’s enquiries frequently take on a highly personal dimension. This approach inevitably leads to conflict with their superiors. Both men are convinced that their experience of police work and the everyday life of ordinary people, not to mention their own personal integrity, contrasted with the political expediency or careerism of others, gives them an insight and a moral standpoint beyond and above that of their hierarchical superiors. Both are at a certain point suspended from duty.
It would be foolish to exaggerate the similarities between Maigret and Rebus. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges is of two men discomforted by the rapid social change of the worlds they inhabit. The readers of Simenon’s and Rankin’s novels inhabit(ed) the same worlds as their detective heroes and face(d) many of the same challenges to their ideas of the world and their place in it, which may go a long way to explaining the immense popularity of the two characters.

William Alder

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