Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dark and Dirty Snow

And now for a  palate-cleansing interval.

This review is from: Dirty Snow (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)

[I previously posted about Simenon on my book blog.]

Dirty Snow is Georges Simenon's noir masterpiece of one corner of Occupied Europe. And it is truly noir. As William Vollmann notes in the Afterword, the noir tag has gotten a bit overused and applied to pretend noir, but Simenon delivers the real deal.

The protagonist, Frank, is a youth of the urban slum, the Occupied urban slum (no country is specified). He lives with his mother - who runs a bordello. He hangs around in a shady bar and wants to kill someone just - just why? Just to do it, to be known to have killed, who knows? He picks a disgusting low-level German officer as his victim. He gets involved in the black market, committing some heinous offenses in the process; offenses that would seem even worse were his victims worthy of sympathy. He falls in love, as much as he can anyway, and betrays this naïve young girl.

Inevitably, the Occupiers stick Frank in a nasty little school-turned-jail; not, however, for killing the German officer. Frank's black-market work for a German general was well paid, but it turns out the general got the money to pay Frank by stealing it from his own HQ and that is very much a cause for concern. This details sounds quite important and so it may seem I give away too much of the story. You'll have to take my word that it is just an insignificant part of Frank's story. Because now, subjected to lengthy interrogations, Frank has moved into another world that no one from his old world could grasp, if they even suspected its existence. Simenon's tale calls to mind other notably dark and simply notable works such as Victor Serge's The Case of Comrade Tulayev (New York Review Books Classics), Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon: A Novel, and Robert Littell's The Stalin Epigram: A Novel.

Brilliantly disturbing. Be forewarned that Dirty Snow is not a Maigret story.

For a dissenting view on William T. Vollmann click here.

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