Georges Simenon: Maigret’s Christmas or The Girl who believed in Santa Claus aka Un Noël de Maigret (1951)

Nine stories present Simenon’s dauntless detective in a series of cases in which Maigret’s paternal side is activated and his detection efforts considerably aided by some observant and resourceful children.

I haven’t read any Simenon for a long time and when I was browsing amazon. fr. and discovered Un Noël de Maigret I thought it might be fun to read it at this time of the year. I thought it would be a longer book or a collection of short stories but the book contained only a 100 page long novella. It has been taken out of a collection with the same title and reissued on its own. Maybe it was the best and longest story in the original book. The English version Maigret’s Christmas contains still all nine stories, one of which is The Girl who believed in Santa Claus, the story that I have read. So, if you are in the mood for a lot of Christmas themed Maigret, you will have to get the English version.

The story has very melancholic undertones. It is easily summarized in a few sentences. On Christmas day two neighbours of Maigret come to visit to tell him that the little step-daughter of one of the two women pretends that Santa Claus has visited her in her bedroom at night. He offered her a big doll and tried to remove some floorboards in order to access the apartment below. The step-mother, a cold and distant woman, says she doesn’t believe the little girl, she says, she thinks she made everything up. The second woman, a spinster with a crush on Maigret, has a keen interest in the little girl and forced the step-mother to come along and tell Maigret all about the odd story the child is telling.

The story behind the Santa Claus and the solving of the mystery is not that gripping. The charm of this book lies in the person of Maigret and his psychological analysis. Maigret treats people with amazing respect, he is truly non-judgemental. The book is also infused with his and his wifes sadness about their childlessness. Christmas, being the family holiday it is, reminds them of their fate in a painful way.

Simenon excels in descriptions and psychological analysis. I could compare him to some other crime authors but that wouldn’t do him any justice. He wrote before Rendell, Mankell and all the others. He is very subtle, very poignant. This is not one of his great works but it is well done and his craftmanship can be perceived in every sentence. There is no superfluous word in this book, it’s soothingly unadorned.

I have read a few non Maigret books that I enjoyed a lot (Three Bedrooms in Manhattan aka Trois chambres à Manhattan is wonderful)  but I am not too familiar with his Maigret books.

Who has read any? Which did you like? Or do you prefer those without the inspector?

Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte aka The White Ribbon (2009) A German Mystery

From July, 1913 to the outbreak of World War I, a series of incidents take place in a German village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider; a woman falls to her death through rotted planks; the local baron’s son is hung upside down in a mill; parents slap and bully their children; a man is cruel to his long-suffering lover; another sexually abuses his daughter. People disappear. A callow teacher, who courts a nanny in the baron’s household, narrates the story and tries to investigate the connections among these accidents and crimes. What is foreshadowed? Are the children holy innocents? God may be in His heaven, but all is not right with the world; the center cannot hold.

The German movie The White Ribbon has won many prizes. It is labelled “mystery” and “drama”. For me this was a mystery with a very ghostly feel. Perfect for the R.I.P Challenge.

I was curious. I did not know much, just that the movie takes place in a German village, from July 1913 until the beginning of the first world war. Strange things happen in this village. The doctor has an accident because someone has set a trap for him. A woman dies. Children disappear and are found again injured, showing signs of torture. A bird gets savagely mutilated. The mother of a boy with down syndrome leaves without telling anyone. To say the least, this is a dark, gloomy and disturbing movie. An illustration of the so-called Poisonous or Black Pedagogy that was applied in Germany for a very long time. Most people in this movie are mean and cruel. If they don’t hurt each other with actions they do it with words. Things are not outspoken, everything happens behind closed doors. This is a society that is afraid of eternal sin but still commits so many daily crimes. In one of the last sequences people hear at church that war broke out. They cheer.

I did not enjoy this movie but must admit that it is very good. I have read a lot about this time and it is very accurate. The actors are outstanding and the black and white cinematography is atmospheric. It is also a very literary movie as the teacher who looks back on these events narrates many parts as if reading his memoirs.

I think The White Ribbon is a fascinating but very depressing movie. Don’t watch it if you need cheering up. As for the mystery part… Nothing is really resolved. I have my theories and would be glad to share them with someone who has seen it too. But to avoid spoilers I will keep quiet about it for now.