Did he really?

T.J. Binyon

  • The man who wasn’t Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon by Patrick Marnham
    Bloomsbury, 346 pp, £17.99, April 1992, ISBN 0 7475 0884 4

Simenon was not a man to do things by halves. He moved house 33 times, wrote 193 novels under his own name and more than two hundred under 18 pseudonyms, produced 27 volumes of autobiography and at 74 claimed to have slept with ten thousand women, eight thousand of whom were prostitutes (his second wife later smallmindedly reduced the total to 1200). The man who was to be described by Gide as ‘the greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature’ was born in Liège, in Belgium, in 1903. His father, Désiré, a tall, quiet man with a weak heart, was a clerk in an insurance agency; his mother. Henriette, a small woman with a big head, had known abject poverty as a child. As a result, her life was a constant search for security, and this was to be, in Marnham’s view, a dominating factor in the formation of her son’s personality. A younger brother, Christian, was born in 1906. After a chequered career he was killed in Vietnam in 1947 while serving with the French Foreign Legion.

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