One of the last of about 400 novels by Belgian-born writer in French Georges Simenon, the 74th of 76 Paris Chief Inspector Jules Maigret novels (there are also 28 short stories featuring him), Maigret et l’homme tout seul (Maigret and the Man All Alone or Maigret and the Loner, published in 1971) is one of the more complicated of Maigret’s cases.
The body of fastidiously coiffured man who has been shot (three times) is found amidst a vast accumulation of junk in a house slated for demolition in Les Halles one muggy Paris summer day in July of 1965. There are no clues about who the dead man is, so before trying to find out who killed him and why, the 50-something Maigret must first figure out who the well-manicuredand –coiffed corpse was, and how he came to be where he was shot. Like M. Monde, the man had cut himself off from family (a wife and a son) and society, albeit without embezzled funds, as M. Monde vanished with.
There is a very bitter wife (a recurrent figure in Simenon fiction) and some long-ago passions, and a long-ago (just after WWII) unsolved murder case that Maigret reopens in his quest to understand why (as much or more than who) killed the derelict. The investigation involves Maigret going to the Mediterranean coast in a quite humorous sortie. As usual, he eats well, and though he was trying to curb his intake of beer on his (now-dead) physician’s orders, he consumes ten over the course of this top-notch police procedural novel.
Four years earlier, in Le chat/The Cat, Simenon portrayed an elderly couple that had come to hate each other. It is not that they had been living together for decades, though no longer speaking to each other (communicating by notes and by acts of aggression). Both had outlived earlier spouses and wed eight years before the present-day of the novel. Marguerite fancies herself a fine lady. She still owns some buildings, though her father once owned the whole street, which is named for him. Emile was a workingman who helped her with a burst pipe and stayed around. He dotes on a cat that Emile cannot stand for a number of reasons, including concern about her own pet, a parrot.
While he is sick, she poisons the cat. He takes vengeance on the tail feathers of the parrot; worries about being poisoned himself, runs away (not very far: to a room above the bar his sometimes sexual partner runs) for a while. Marguerite is humiliated by his departure and silently implores him to return, where they continue to prepare food separately and communicate only by notes.
As the houses across the street (which her father once owned) are being loudly demolished, several time, “he almost spoke to her; he wanted to say something, anything, appeasing words. He realized that it was too late now and that neither of them could turn back.” They are together until death doth them part.
The novel is a portrait of savage marital disgust for each other, strongly (but not entirely) slanted to the grievances of the man. Simenon seems to share Emil’s view that “she needed to be unhappy, a victim of men’s wickedness,” forgetting no outrage to her refined sensibility and not recognizing any faults of her own. Husbands getting fed up and leaving was a recurrent theme for Simenon (M. Monde Vanishes). “The Cat” was filmed with Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret as a couple who had once loved each other, a past unlike the one Simenon supplied the characters who in the novel had never been any love, only habituated to coresidence.
©2005, 2019, Stephen O. Murray