Let’s talk about the first and the last novel in the Maigret saga
SIMENON SIMENON DA PIETR A CHARLES, UN PERCORSO CONTINUO
Parliamo del primo e dell'ultimo romanzo della saga di Maigret
SIMENON SIMENON. DE PIETR À CHARLES, UN CHEMIN CONTINU
Parlons du premier et du dernier roman de la saga de Maigret
Pietr and Charles. These are the respective protagonists in Maigret’s first and last investigation. Between these two novels more than 43 years have passed by, and in between there have been a hundred novels and short stories. Inevitably we are faced with two slightly different novels, but after all not so different. Which are the differences and similarities between the one of the beginning and the one that closes the series?
The first one, Pietr le Letton, stages a well-known Latvian criminal and international crook, which cannot be precisely identified. At first he seems to be a dead man found in a train, and then a man is arrested who seems to be the same… So who is he? Is he Pietr? Or does maybe a twin also come into play? Simenon plays with an identity weave to keep tension high.
The last one, Maigret et Monsieur Charles, talks about an elusive character. Charles isn’t his true name; in fact he is Gérard Sabin-Levesque, a notary appreciated by good society, and he uses his other name for his second life, during which he disappears from home for some days and goes in the nightclubs, living brief escapades with complacent women. In short, a kind of harmless Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who enjoys good life to escape the greyness and monotony of married life and a not so funny profession.
In both cases Maigret finds himself playing with the theme of the double, not only about identity, but also in the other characters. For example the notary’s wife, apparently respectable and irreproachable, is in reality an alcoholic, who had been before a prostitute or at least a hostess, and she has relationships with an unscrupulous gigolo.
In Pietr le Letton, there is a sentence that immediately frames the relationship between the Chief Inspector and some luxury environments: “the Majestic did not digest him. He persisted in forming a large black and motionless spot in the gilding, the lights…” His rough bark materializes when he finds himself in an uncomfortable situation. In Maigret et Monsieur Charles, the Chief Inspector gives an even stronger demonstration of impermeability to flattery: he refuses the post of Director of the Judicial Police. He wants to remain in his Criminal Brigade; he doesn’t wish to do investigations that have to deal with politics, but he is anchored to his role as an investigator, and on the field. Becoming the Director of the P.J. would mean to deal with officials and directors of the ministry of interior, an ambience that seems to him as alien as the gilding in the Majestic. From this point of view, forty years don’t seem to have affected his personality.
In both the first and the last cases we find a Maigret who confirms his being normal, a civil servant, who likes his job, who cannot stand the “beautiful world”, whether it is good society or the high institutional spheres, which had often many points of contact between them.
In Pietr le Letton, Simenon catapults Maigret into that French province that would have much space in the following novels. The description he makes about Fécamp is at the same time concise and complete, and puts us in the atmosphere of a harbour that lives on fishing; in a few words we can guess a poor reality, people doing hard work and who don’t have time or money for futility. In Maigret and Monsieur Charles the Chief Inspector is faced with an all Parisian case that has to deal with nightclubs, entraîneuses, betrayals and strange relationships between husband and wife.
Alcohol is another topic that often appears in Simenon’s stories. And we find scenes about alcohol as well as in Pietr le Letton as in Maigret et Monsieur Charles.
Pietr le Letton is denser with twists, and action has certain prevalence. In Maigret and Monsieur Charles, the Chief Inspector tries to shed light on sentimental and interested relationships, on frailties and egoism; because this is the route that will lead him to explain the case.
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