Some preparation for the new Penguin translation for Anglophones
SIMENON SIMENON. “LES PITARD” EN ANGLAIS ARRIVE LE 31 AOUT
Un peu de préparation pour la nouvelle traduction de Penguin pour les anglophones.
SIMENON SIMENON. "I PITARD" IN INGLESE ARRIVA IL 31 AGOSTO
Qualche anticipazione sulla nuova traduzione di Penguin per gli anglofoni
The anticipated release of The Pitards in a new English translation by David Bellos on August 31 stimulated my first-time reading of the French original Les Pitard. Available previously as A Wife at Sea in translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury, this book will be available from Amazon.uk and can be delivered to the USA.
In terms of genres, the book is unlike the Maigrets and the romans durs. It is more of an adventure novel, a thriller. Indeed, one gets a lot of action: a ghost in the galley, runaway train cars in the hold, a near collision on the bounding main, a deep-sea fishing boat floundering in 26-foot waves, people falling and jumping overboard, flying life buoys and tow ropes, men lost and plucked from the sea….
The basic premise of the story is intriguing, for long-time seafaring Emile “now had his own boat. He was not only skipper, but also shipowner.” However, his young wife of two years, Mathilde, “had demanded to follow him” aboard. In fact, the ancient superstition that women bring bad luck aboard ships certainly seems to be borne out as the storms at sea and the storms on the boat escalate in horrible unison. Suspicious of each other’s motives and behavior, Emile and Mathilde accuse each other progressively. It starts with the simple falling of a fork onto the floor and rises into an intense husband-wife/ man-woman conflict. Themes of jealousy, infidelity, greed, and finally love abound. Violence ensues, too, when offended and enraged Emile slaps her face and, in due time, down but not out Mathilde scratches his face and hands.
Although a distress call from a nearby disabled ship promises to provide both some psychological diversion, it is short lived because the rescue effort on the dark and raging ocean divides Emile’s focus and multiplies Mathilde’s worries. Thus, while “one could no longer tell if the water was coming from the sky or the sea,” poor Lannec, one eye on the mission, the other on his wife, stands on the bridge and poor Mathilde, seasick and terrified, shudders below decks.
At first, Emile felt like “superman” among the crew on his ship, but when he insisted as the “boat master” that she must get off, which she flatly refused, he felt “like a man who’s been run out of his own house.” It angers him that “she was spoiling his joy in having a boat” and “the whole boat was mocking him.” At first, Mathilde felt calm and in control, but slowly she becomes “distrustful and defiant in the middle of a hostile universe.” Increasingly a “prisoner” suffering on the beleaguered boat, she disintegrates and goes berserk: first “shriveled up […] I’m afraid!” then, “shaking […] I don’t want to die!” and then, “a crazy woman […] Murderers!”
Products of different classes and tormented by different fears, Emile and Mathilde are similar tragic figures though their fates are vastly different. All the while, the real villain and culprit is Madame Pitard, his mother-in-law and her mother. Seemingly behind the scenes back in France, her image gradually emerges aboard as the root of all evil—hence, the book title.
In the end, one lies dead, one slumps defeated, and one stays determined. Perhaps, you should read this novel.
David P Simmons