I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
French title: Le port des brumes
Englished: Linda Coverdale, 2015
The Misty Harbour – Georges Simenon
Nothing like an early Maigret mystery. This was written in 1931 and published in 1932. This translation, however, is one of the many re-translations that Penguin commissioned a couple of years ago. The goal, I think, was to better capture the spareness of Simenon’s prose.
The atmosphere is persuasive, with trains, fog, smoke from Maigret’s pipe, the stuffy rooms. The novel opens with Maigret escorting an amnesiac back to his native town. He’d been identified by his maid from a picture published in the papers. When they arrive at Ouistreham (in the Normandy region in northwestern France), Maigret tries to figure out the background as to why the amnesiac suffered a gunshot wound to his head, which, although patched up skillfully, robbed him of his memory and speech.
Once the victim is left at home he is killed with a dose of strychnine in his pitcher of water. The Inspector investigates. Simenon brilliantly describes closed community of seamen who work and drink around the lock, who live according to the tides, an exclusive order not loquacious with outsiders. They stick together in wary silence. The upper crust, too, face Maigret in silence. The victim and his maid Julie have only one advocate for the truth to come out, Maigret.
The plotting is rather uneven, but reader rather regrets leaving this atmosphere. These Depression-era Maigret novels are strong novels, marked by sober, precise writing. And don’t forget the existentialism before existentialism became cool in the Fifites. I’m not a totally objective observer because I like novels set in the Thirties but I think these novels do not age, thanks to the spare style of Simenon. Still, there are period artifacts: pitch pine, coal tar, alarm clocks, a peasant's cart, the bistouille (black coffee with moonshine) in glasses, pale firefly gaslights, fuggy taverns, and people smoking anyplace and drinking anytime they like.
I’m pretty sure back in the day, I read an earlier translation by Stuart Gilbert, one called Death of a Harbormaster. But this was worth re-reading.