As Trains Go By

The New Republic has published a long review of three novels by Georges Simenon. The thesis is that they are “are superb and polished works of art masquerading as pulp fiction.” Simenon wrote more than 400 novels, under his own name and various pseudonyms.

One of them, The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, was published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s set of great novels from the twentieth century. It’s apparently of a piece with the three reviewed by the New Republic — the reviewer called it “insouciantly gruesome” — and will soon be republished by New York Review Books.

I’ll agree with the insoucance and the gruesomeness, but I’m not sold on the greatness. Each chapter has an odd and cryptic heading — “On the difficulty of getting rid of old newspapers, and the usefulness of a fountain pen and a wristwatch” or “Kees Popinga experiences a remarkable Christmas Eve and, towards morning, selects an automobile.” I had the sense that Simenon wrote the twelve headings and then put the novel together to tie one to the next.

TNR’s reviewer sees books “more philosophically profound than any of the fiction of Camus or Sartre, and far less self-conscious. This is existentialism with a backbone of tempered steel.” Maybe it’s a sign of how both existentialism and Simenon have aged; I just saw a quickie mystery.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged , , by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

6 thoughts on “As Trains Go By

  1. Simenon is – this is a part of his truth- a product of Europe, the existential mirror image of deep clivages.

    He was born in Li?ge- BE ( Luik/ Luttich).Historically speaking : la principaut? de Li?ge.The french speaking Belgians ( and the french) consider Li?ge as ” le dernier rempart contre les boches de l’ autre c?t?”.They’re very “french” over there.However the city and its surroundings has been industrialised earlier than other Belgian towns. Result : it soon became very multinational. And geographically speaking ( just have a look at the map): (1)it’s very close to both The Netherlands and Germany (2) and it happened to be a stop on the ancient road Paris -K?ln.Till the 19th century people, living north and east of the town all spoke …platdeutch.

    And the first versions of the Treaty of Rome foresaw .. Li?ge as the capital of Europe.Dehousse ( from Li?ge) negociated the new Treaty on behalf of Spaak (from Brussels).

  2. Thanks, bernard. I hadn’t known that about the capital.

    One of my favorite authors of historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett, centers her second major series on Bruges, for similar reasons of Europeanness.

    Interesting, too, that the B king is king ‘of the Belgians’ rather than ‘of Belgium.’ Some Napoleonic reason, if memory serves.

    (And speaking of bulwarks, there’s a whole thread of Polish history positing the country as the antemurale christianitatis…)

  3. One of the less well known things about Bruges is that the stock market was invented, i e developed over there for the first time in European history. Key role : the Van Beurzen ( Beurs, Bourse) family.

    As a result of 1492 ( discovery of the Amercas by the Italian Columbus, financed by the Spanish) the financial center of Europe moved … to the north, i e first Bruges and later Amsterdam. Golfde age of Bruges is thus the 16th century.Later it fell asleep.It was – unlike Ghent- not “touched” by the industrialisation in the 19th century. It awoke as a result of .. tourism.

  4. Is it allowed to provide the readers with one additional comment/ remark?

    Bruges is hosting a part of the UN University system : the section focussing on regional cooperation ( in UN terms the EU is “regional cooperation). Web site is .

  5. Hi bernard, thanks for the illuminating comments! Yes, it is allowed for readers to keep commenting…

    You just made another connection for me. In the Dorothy Dunnett books I mentioned above, one of the major character lines is the van Borselen family. I imagine they are a fictional variation of the Beurzens that you mention.

  6. you may like to know that in brusssels, opposite the eurostar terminal, is a mural – of a cow … the title …. “la vache qui regard les trains passer” (the cow that watches the trains go by)

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