Signe Picpus | Georges Simenon

Also known as Signed Picpus or Maigret and the Fortune Teller, Signe Picpus was one of the three Maigret books that Simenon published in 1944. My 2015 edition was translated by David Coward.

According to wikipedia, Simenon actually wrote Signe Picpus in 1941. It was serialised into 34 instalments between 11th of December 1941 and the 21st of January 1942. In 1943 he decided to auction off the manuscript to benefit prisoners of war.

This particular Maigret is almost stream of consciousness in style with lots of odd little jumps and starts between Maigret’s thoughts, actions and speech. As with most of the Maigret’s, you can often work out what happened or who did it fairly easily. The joy of the reading experience is watching Maigret work it through in his own inimitable way. There is an engaging sense of charm and self-importance that oozes not only from Maigret, but from the writer as well.

But curiously, no reference to the war is made at all in Signed, Picpus. In fact, I spent most of the book thinking the setting was 1960’s Paris, not pre-war or wartime Paris. The only reference I found during the whole book that may have reflected troubled times was,

If everyone contributes expenses, as is only natural in times as difficult as these

There were several nostalgic, almost romantic descriptions of Paris in the summer, a sign perhaps of living through difficult times and remembering those pre-war years fondly…?

There are days which, though you don’t know why, sum up a season, a phase of your life, a whole gamut of sensations. That Saturday night at Morsang and the Sunday that followed were for Maigret the quintessence of summers spent by the river, the ease of life and the simple, sweet pleasures.

The lanterns under the trees which did not have to be lit until the end of dinner; the leaves which turned a sumptuous dark green, the green of old tapestries; the whitish mist which rose off the moving surface of the Seine; the sound of laughter from the small restaurant tables and the dreamy voices of loving couples…

The Maigrets were in bed when someone had brought a gramophone out on to the hotel terrace, and for some considerable time they had heard the sounds of soft, easy music and the crunch of gravel under the feet of dancers.

But no war.

Simenon was born in Belgium and lived in France from 1922 – 1945. The New Yorker, Crime Pays Oct 10, 2011 by Joan Acocella suggested that his war time record may have be a little murky, which may be why he avoided a war time setting for Maigret? (My supposition, not Acocella’s.)

In 1940, after the Second World War got under way, Simenon moved his family to a village in the Vendée, in west-central France. Because of travel restrictions, he got stuck there. In the morning he wrote; in the afternoon he played cards with the locals in a café. His war record was mixed. He ran a refugee center, very energetically, people say. On the other hand, four of the nine movies made of his books during the Occupation were produced by what he knew was a Nazi-run company. For that organization, he also signed a statement that he was an Aryan. Pierre Assouline says that Simenon was neither a collaborator nor a resister but just an opportunist.

I’m curious now to see if any of the other war time Maigret’s are actually set in the war, or if they all have this ‘anytime’ feel. His ability to create a sense of place is remarkable, Paris simply jumps out of the pages of every Maigret, but it’s a Paris of an unknown time. Which ultimately made Signed, Picpus a disappointing choice for The 1944 Club, but a thoroughly enjoyable rainy day read nonetheless.

Title: Signed, Picpus | Maigret and the Fortuneteller | Signé Picpus
Author: Georges Simenon
Translator: David Coward
ISBN: 9780241188460
Imprint: Penguin Classics
Published: 21 October 2015 (originally published 1944)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176

Maigret’s I have read to date:

2 thoughts on “Signe Picpus | Georges Simenon

  1. Simenon was so amazingly prolific, wasn't he? I always think I've read a lot of his works, and then realise I really haven't…. Thanks for taking part in the 1944 Club! :)kaggsysbookishramblings


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