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The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (Pocket Penguin Classics) Paperback – 29 Jun 2006
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Fierce, bleak and compellingly written . . . with pitiless landscapes of hopeless longing, random cruelty and galloping fate warmed only by the twilit lyricism of doomed desire. These are novels of eye-opening, spine-tingling control and intensity. (Boyd Tonkin The Independent)
One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century . . . Simenon was unequaled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories (Guardian)
Compelling . . . Simenon shows how close the deranged mind is to the ordinary mind' (Financial Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Georges Simenon was born at Liège in Belgium 1903. He published over 160 books and his work has been admired by almost all the leading French and English critics. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and more than 40 have been filmed.
Top customer reviews
Despair and negation predominate in Georges Simenon's "The Man Who Watched Trains Go By", a book that I considered to be darker than noir.
Simenon was nothing if not prolific in both his literary and public life. Born in Belgium in 1903, Simenon turned out hundreds of novels. Simenon's obsession with writing caused him to break off an affair with the celebrated Josephine Baker in Paris when he could only write twelve novels in the twelve month period in which they were involved. Although perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret detective novels, Simenon also wrote over a hundred novels that he referred to as `romans durs' (literally "hard novels"). As with many of his contemporaries such as Chandler and Hammett, Simenon's books were marketed and sold as popular, pulp fiction. Also like Chandler and Hammett, Simenon's books have stood up well over time.
The story's protagonist and narrator is Kees Poppinga. As the book opens Kees is seen and sees himself as a stolidly middle-class Dutch citizen living a life of relative comfort in the coastal town of Groningen. He is secure in his job as the manager of a ship's supply company. His sense of security is reflected in an attitude best described as smug and more than a bit conceited. On the surface, Kees' life seems well insulated from the harsher side of life. But Simenon shows us quickly that this appearance of security was really a thin veneer that could be washed away at a moment's notice. One night, Kees discovers that his company's owner has driven the company into bankruptcy. Kees will soon be out of the job and will likely lose everything he holds dear.
The rest of the book focuses on Kees' decent from smug satisfaction to nihilism and despair. Stripped of his middle-class sense of security Kees finds that he is also stripped of all those societal restraints that most civilized members of society have. Kees embarks on a journey of death, deceit, and madness. The only character trait that remains is one of conceit and superiority as he travel to Paris and falls in with the Parisian underworld.
The reader experience this journey through the narration of Kees and Simenon does an excellent job of allowing the reader to look out at the world through the eyes of a madman. It is something of an uncomfortable feeling but it made for compelling reason. I have already compared Simenon to Chandler and Hammett because they wrote in a similar genre and were contemporaries. As far as contemporary writers are concerned, the French-writer Michel Houellebecq (Elementary Particles) seems remarkably similar in both tone and style.
I have now read two of Simenon's romans durs and three of his Inspector Maigret mysteries. They have all been worth reading and if you are interested in either the detective genre or the type of dark psychological novel described here, Simenon is well worth discovering. L. Fleisig
Here, Kees Popinga loses everything when the company he works for experiences financial troubles and his boss does a runner. Abandoning his family and the prospect of mounting debts and social embarrassment, Popinga flees to Paris, engaging with characters well outside of his usual circle, and ultimately becoming an outcast from society as his world implodes.
Up to a point it is done well enough, and the early chapters are characterised with a pace and verve that most modern storytellers can only aspire to. But, as with much of Simeonon's output - the latter part of the book falls away badly. Very rapidly, Popinga's life and exploration of what it means to be an outcast in a big city unravels, and he ends up institutionalised for what he has done.
As usual, Simenon develops his characters in a way that means we can find some sympathy for what they do and the consequences of their actions, but the theme itself was explored more effectively in some of his other stories.
I really felt for this man as he wandered around the streets of Paris, still wearing his made to measure suit. His notoriety hits the front pages of the newspapers and as he reads about himself it enflames his righteous anger, inspiring his moral indignation to defend the rectitude of his behaviour. There is no happy ending.
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