Georges Simenon famously wrote in a kind of concentrated trance state, starting and finishing books within a matter of weeks, sometimes days. And that has always seemed to me the best way to read him, too—in a concentrated trance state. Quick, immersive, done. (See his Paris Review interview here.) I don’t necessarily remember many details afterward—just a blur of images, a filmy kind of dread—but once I begin to read his work, especially the romans durs, nothing else exists but the slide into whatever seedy underworld awaits: cheap hotel rooms, colonial outposts, occupied cities, whorehouses, and roadside bars. Whiplash quick, atmospheric, his are usually the skinniest books on the shelf.
So, at five hundred and forty-four pages, his autobiographical novel Pedigree is something of a departure, and not simply in terms of length. Pedigree is the book that Simenon spent the most time on, and it’s the one where the most time passes. Set in his birthplace, Liège, it opens in 1903 and continues through 1918, just after the Armistice.