Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: Tropic Moon, by Georges Simenon

Tropic Moon, by Georges Simenon. Published 2005 by NYRB Classics.  Crime fiction. Translated from the French.

As part of my recent spate of crime-fiction reading I thought I should check out Georges Simenon, the incredibly prolific French author and master of the genre; he wrote over 200 novels, 150 novellas and many pulp novels under dozens of pseudonyms. I first read about him in any detail in Carmela Ciuraru's great book Nom de Plume. Her descriptions so intrigued me that I knew I had to get to know this writer better, and soon.

His crime novels can be divided between the many Inspector Maigret novels and many standalones; Tropic Moon is a standalone, the atmospheric, melancholy and slow-paced story of Joseph Timar, a Frenchman come to Gabon to make his fortune at the height of French colonial presence there. Right away he falls in with Adèle, the manager of his hotel, a refuge for expats. One night, an African boy is murdered, and Adèle's husband dies suddenly.  In the aftermath of the murder, Adèle and Timar depart for the jungle and a scheme of her devising.

Simenon keeps his descriptions spare and flat but Timar's numb and uncomprehending mental state as dark things go on around him is the real focus of this brief and captivating novel:
He had barely gotten to Libreville before he found himself in an office with Adèle seated next to a notary and using her finger to point out the various deletions and corrections that should be made. The concession was in Timar's name, but there was a binding contract between him and widow Renaud [Adèle], who brought two hundred thousand francs to the deal, a hundred thousand for the concession and the rest for improvements to the land. Every foreseeable event had been accounted for, everything was in order, and Timar, who didn't have any objections, signed the papers he was handed one by one.
There wasn't much of a murder mystery, just the mystery of Timar's soul and Adèle's and how they both reflect the brutal realities of colonialism. I didn't love it, but I'll read more Simenon anyway.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.