I’ve often said that if you want to live in France you need to learn the language. Going to French classes is a good start, as is talking to French people. To get a good grasp of French you also need to read newspapers, watch French TV and read books in French. This is where Maigret comes in. The stories are good and the character of Maigret is brilliantly drawn, but the language is not complicated or difficult. That makes these novels an excellent choice if you are at intermediate level in French.
My two previous posts on French novels (click here and here) are among the most popular I’ve written. In the second one, I said all the Maigret novels are good and I wouldn’t single any out. I have changed my mind because of the number of people who come to this site having entered ‘top 10 Maigret novels’ into a search engine. This post is for them.
The character of Maigret
Who is Maigret, anyway? Commissaire Jules Maigret is the principal character in a phenomenally successful series of detective novels by Georges Simenon. Set mainly between the late 1940s and the 1960s (although a few are set in the earlier period), they are a wonderful depiction of French society at that period.
Maigret normally gets his man (or woman) in the end. He always claims that he doesn’t employ any particular methods, but he immerses himself in the surroundings and social milieu of a crime. He has a profound understanding of human frailty and motivation and describes himself as a ‘raccommodeur de destins’ (a fixer of destinies). He is fond of a glass or three and likes his grub. Food and drink play a large part in the novels.
I have read most of them. Here are my ten favourites (not an easy choice).
1. Mon ami Maigret (My friend Maigret), 1949: Maigret travels to the island of Porquerolles to investigate a murder, accompanied by a Scotland Yard detective who has come to study Maigret’s methods.
2. Maigret se défend (Maigret defends himself), 1964: Maigret is falsely accused of compromising a young woman (although not actually raping her – apologies, I got this wrong in the first version of this post and have just re-read the book). Realising that someone is out to frame him, he must conduct his own investigation to prove his innocence.
3. Maigret à l’école (Maigret at school), 1953: Maigret goes to a seaside village to investigate the murder of a vitriolic old woman whom everyone in the village loathes. The schoolmaster is accused of the crime but protests his innocence.
4. Maigret et son mort (Maigret and his corpse), 1948: a man who is pursued by a killer goes desperately from bar to bar, phoning Maigret for help, but the killer gets him. Maigret sets up an elaborate trap and unearths a murderous gang in the process.
5. Les vacances de Maigret (Maigret on holiday), 1947: on holiday on the West coast, Mme Maigret falls ill and has to be hospitalised. Maigret then gets drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of a young woman in the same hospital, following an accident.
6. Les scrupules de Maigret (Maigret has scruples), 1957: a man comes to see Maigret, convinced that his wife is trying to kill him. He is poisoned shortly afterwards. Maigret’s investigation reveals a strange three-cornered relationship between the man, his wife and her sister.
7. La patience de Maigret (Maigret’s patience), 1965: a former villain, now in a wheelchair after a settling of scores, is shot dead in his apartment. Maigret has always suspected him of a series of jewellery heists but has never been able to prove it. Maigret keeps the villain’s mistress under surveillance.
8. Maigret au Picratt’s (Maigret at Picratt’s), 1950: a nightclub stripper is murdered and Maigret enters the demi-monde of 1950s Parisian clubland to find her killer.
9. Maigret en meublé (Maigret stays at a boarding house), 1951: one of Maigret’s faithful inspectors, Janvier, is shot and seriously injured while staking out a suspected criminal. Maigret books himself into a nearby boarding house as his HQ and makes the acquaintance of the landlady, Mlle Clément, and her eclectic tenants.
10. Maigret se trompe (Maigret makes a mistake), 1953: a young woman of humble origins is shot in an upmarket apartment. She is the mistress of a celebrated surgeon who lives upstairs with his wife. A rare occasion when Maigret comes across someone who intimidates him.
Copyright © 2010 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved
[…] The Top Ten Maigret Novels […]
[…] Number 1: The Top Ten Maigret Novels […]
[…] The Top Ten Maigret Novels French Country Novels French Novels: 10 of the Best – Nos 6-10 […]
I am enjoying the new Maigret series with Rowan Atkinson playing the part. In particular the latest shown over Xmas by ITV, (UK). Atkinson strikes the balance of a quick working brain with that almost miserable side of Maigret.
I am at present reading through all the Maigret novels.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for commenting. Not being great TV watchers, we don’t get UK TV here, so I haven’t seen the new Maigret series. I find it hard to imagine Rowan Atkinson in the role, but perhaps that’s because I can only see him as Mr Bean. For me, Bruno Cremer portrayed Maigret best, but I haven’t seen them all.
Maigret was a bit morose, but that was partly an element of what he always hated people calling his “method”. He immersed himself so thoroughly in his cases and in the lives of the people involved that he found it hard to emerge to deal with more superficial matters.
I love the Maigret novels. Enjoy!
I can’t imagine Maigret otherwise than played by Jean Gabin, although Rowan Atkinson was very good in the part. Should someone mention Maigret to me, it’s Jean Gabin always. I would like to point out here that although George Simenon is mainly known for his Maigret series, his other novels are just as good if not better. It’s amazing how quickly was Simenon able to draw in the reader and hold him captured to the end. No literary gimmicks here a la Toni Morrison that make reading a hard labor, just the simplest of language, simple but effective.
The funny thing is that I learned French through Agatha Christie’s translations. I was very fond of her at the time and the fondness helped me to digest the foreign language. As for my English, I learned it from the translated Asterix series first. Go figure. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Other people have said that about Jean Gabin. I can’t really comment, since I think I’ve seen only one Maigret film in which he starred. I did find Bruno Cremer very convincing in the role. We have nearly all of Simenon’s books, some of which are very good, if rather depressing, generally. I like the Maigret books for the aperçu they provide into Parisian life post-war. Interesting that you learned English from the Asterix books translated FROM French!
LikeLiked by 1 person
[…] of these phrases, either by hearing them spoken or by reading them in novels. I’ve written about Georges Simenon’s Maigret books several times. Although their language is now a bit outmoded, they are a great place to find the […]
The only screen interpretation of Maigret that I’ve seen here is the US is by Michael Gambon. I thought the adaptations were apt and quite clever in a number of ways, but they didn’t quite work. Since they originated in the UK, they had a mixture of UK idiom and French idiom that clinked and clanked in places, at least to the American ear.
I’ve read quite a number of books over the years. I’ve always been struck by the economy of the dialog. I wish I could send for sandwiches and beer from the Brasserie Dauphine.
I also saw the Michael Gambon interpretation when I lived in England. Must be going back nearly 20 years. He was good but not quite right as Maigret – too sunny a character, whereas in the books Maigret can be a miserable so and so, especially when he is at a critical moment in a case. I don’t know if you’ve seen the post I published just this evening about Bruno Cremer, who played Maigret and who died today, and whom I thought was brilliant in the role.
Ah, the Brasserie Dauphine. How many beers and sandwiches must have been consumed in all the books? I can almost taste them. I would love to know if it was based on a real Parisian brasserie and, if so, if it’s still there. No doubt it’s changed.
[…] For my post on the top 10 Maigret novels, click here. […]
[…] Phenomenally successful series of books by Simenon written mostly in the 50s and 60s, filmed and dramatised numerous times. The character of Commissaire Jules Maigret (although he hated his first name and even his wife calls him Maigret) looms large in every sense of the word in the books. I can’t single out one for recommendation because they are all good. Since I wrote this, I’ve changed my mind and have now posted my top 10 Maigret novels here. […]