Georges Simenon, Les Rescapés du Télémaque (1938)
During the first lock-down, libraries and bookshops were completely shut-down, and even Amazon was limiting the shippings, so I was really stressed-out to have nothing left to read. Well, yes! I’m fully aware that it was completely irrational, given our very full bookshelves, but as other people were hoarding TP and pasta, I was indeed hoarding books.
And while I was hoarding, some people were Kondo-weeding their own bookshelves, resulting in many books ending up in the trash (in the worse option) or in little free libraries (in the best option). I found this book in a cardboard box that was left outside in our compound. The box remained for a few (dry) days, then after the next rain showers, I guess someone threw the rest out into the bins.
This novel does not feature Maigret, and yet there is a murder, and an investigation. But it’s the weirdest investigation, as the one who’s leading it is the most unqualified sleuth ever. A rich old man has been murdered in his mansion in Fécamp, a small fishing village in Normandy. The main suspect is Pierre, the captain of a fishing boat, who is currently away at sea. As soon as his boat gets into the harbor, he is arrested, to the whole village’s outcry, as the young man is well-loved by everyone. Well-loved indeed, but would he be able to kill a man, who has probably killed his own father decades ago? People are not so sure anymore.
Now there’s this part where readers with a vivid visual imagination might want to SKIP THE NEXT FEW LINES (sorry for yelling!). The murder mystery hides another mystery that happened 20 years before: the shipwreck of the Telemaque, whose survivors finally resorted to… eating one of their dead mates, namely Pierre’s father. This story remains in the back of the whole book and shows how this tragedy has long-lasting impacts on the next generation.
Charles is Pierre’s twin brother, but they are polar opposite. Pierre is charming, but he’s not good at school. Charles is shy and awkward, and he has taken Pierre’s naval written exams for him. Pierre is strong and healthy, Charles is weak and has TB. Pierre works at sea, while Charles is an employee of the railroads. Charles is always in his brother’s shadow, but for once he has to step forward and lead his own investigation to clear his brother’s name.
Charles has no idea where to start. He is literally the slowest investigator ever, because he has never really reflected on his situation. He has always taken life as it is, people and events at face value, including his own brother, and never analyzed what people thought of him, of his family, or how people may lie to him. It’s a slow awakening, and I really enjoyed this portrait of a complex brotherly relationship.
It’s not, by far, the most well-know or best-written Simenon ever, and it’s really on the slow side, but the portrait of the characters and of the small fishing village was quite fascinating. Once again Simenon proves to be such a good writer of heavy atmosphere and characters. It also got me interested in this coastal region of Normandy and… drumrolls please… we will go there in February if all is well! I will tell you if I can see where the events take place and if the village still retains this particular atmosphere!