Sex, Books, and Vomiting: The Life of Georges Simenon

28 Oct

Writer Georges Simenon was The Beast

Belgian detective novel writer Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was a writer-killing writer, the kind of writer that mama writers and daddy writers tell stories about to their baby writers in order to make them behave.  Even now, in death, Simenon could kill other writers, making Halloween week the perfect time to honor this horror, this beast.

The New Yorker ran a piece on him in the October 10 issue, and I’m still haunted, rattled by Simenon’s hyper-demonic level of productivity. Get a load of this…

* Simenon’s first novel was published at eighteen.

* Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six, Simenon wrote 150 novels and novellas.

* During his established “mature years,” Simenon wrote 134 novels.

* His famous Inspector Maigret Saga was 75 novels and 28 short stories (a new installment came out at an average of 2.5 per year).

Were the books crap? Most assuredly were. It typically took Simenon seven to eight days to write a novel and then two or three days to revise, a pace that produced “sloppy” books that “damaged his work terribly,” according to writer Joan Acocella.

Nonetheless, as if in a B-horror slasher film, I am the bikini-clad girl who pussy-foots out into the dark for no other reason than to get a look at The Beast. Cry out to warn me if you will, but don’t you want to see, too? I mean, how on Earth…?

According to Acocella:

[Simenon] said that, upon beginning [a new book], he entered into a trance, in which, chapter by chapter, the plot came to him….When he felt a novel coming on, he cancelled all appointments and had a check-up with his doctor to make sure he could endure the stress.

How stressful was it? During his early novel-writing period,

Every morning, he sat down and completed his self-assigned daily quota of eighty typewritten pages. Then he would vomit, from the tension, and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

No Microsoft Word cut-and-paste stuff either. Typewritten pages. Whatever your daily word count is, writer, you suck.

But if all that weren’t staggering on its own, Georges Simenon also boasted that he had slept with over 10,000 women — to which his long-time mistress Denyse said, “pooh, it was probably only about twelve hundred.”  Even decimated, that figure is stunning and one that begs the same question as above. How on Earth..?

One day, when Denyse was in her study conferring with one of her assistants, Joan Aitken, Simenon entered the room, wanting to have sex. “You don’t have to leave, Aitken,” Denyse said, and she and Simenon got down, briefly, on the rug.

From the novel production to the daily word count and upchuck, to the manic need for moremoremore, reading Georges Simenon’s story is like watching a compulsive animal pacing in its zoo-cage, back and forth, to and fro, waiting for feeding time or whatever craved, biological function comes next. Crapping books and puking breakfast. Acocella says it was a simple equation for Simenon, “The more product he turned out, the more he expected to earn.” And the more he earned, the more he bought (expensive houses, trips to Africa, wolves, a white stallion, prostitutes), and the more he bought, the more books he had to crap out in order to support that lifestyle. Round and round, back and forth, to and fro.

I’m not intimidated by this writer’s output (OK, maybe a little), but I watched Paranormal Activity the other night, and Simenon’s story of undead writer-life scares me a hell of a lot more.

One Response to “Sex, Books, and Vomiting: The Life of Georges Simenon”

  1. postcards2015 September 7, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    I was a great fan of Simenon’s novels when I was a young women. I admit that as I grew older, I realized that a lot of his novels were very misogynistic. I loved the spare writing style of his novels, read all that were translated into English at the time. A real classic is his magnificent “The Bells of Bicetre” about a newspaper mogul’s experience with a stroke and how it changed his life. Far from being “crap,” his Maigret novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays. Two television series … In 1966, Simenon was given the Mystery Writers of America’s highest honor, the Grand Master Award. According to the UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Simenon is the seventeenth-most-often-translated author, the most-translated Belgian author.

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