Out of order!

Posted on August 27, 2012


A tax collector is best hung on Sunday – Belgian Proverb

I have no idea what this proverb means (and, being pedantic and annoying, wonder whether they mean hanged, though that doesn’t make it any clearer[1]), but then most Belgian proverbs are baffling. To wit… ‘Don’t make use of another’s mouth unless it has been leant to you.’  If only there were an emoticon for a mixture of befuddlement and phnar phnaring.   There’s a Belgian saying which states that ‘proverbs are the library of history’, in which case, Belgium must have a strange and twisted past… hmmm. Anyway, talking of twists, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that Belarus is missing.  This is because my Belarusian friend has only just sent me one of the few works in translation. So far, it’s looking good. It feels like reading Bram Stoker for the first time. But more of that next week, for now let’s turn back to ‘out of order’ Belgium and Georges Simenon’s The President.

I chose this over a Maigret simply because it was in my local independent bookshop on the day I needed to buy something Belgian, I liked the edition and it was translated by someone called Daphne, a name I always find endearing.   To say I enjoyed it would be misleading. I appreciated it.  It’s a very fine piece of writing which charts the last days of an elder statesman who holds a piece of information that could bring down the Government.  That, however, makes it sound like a thriller. It’s not.  It’s an excavation of the thoughts of said (unnamed) statesman, as he faces death and comes to terms with past secrets.  On that score, it’s a good read, rather like reading a Maupassant short story.  Further, it’s well crafted, the kind of writing that forces you to slow-read.   The novel’s timeless, rather out-dated feel, could be down to its being based on Georges Clemenceau (supposedly), or to Daphne’s translation which uses words like ‘correspondence’ for letters and ‘finishing ones toilet’ for getting ready.  That said, it was written in 1958 at a time when Simenon was in his mid-50s, so maybe he was having a mid-life crisis, questioning his own mortality and what, if anything, had meaning.

So, if you like well-written, introspective novels, you’ll like The President.  If you don’t, it’s only 152 little pages and won’t do you any harm.

And now the future!  Can one say that? Whatever! The next book will be as follows: Vladimir Korotkevich’s Savage Hunt of King Stakh, or Vladimir Karatkevich’s King Stakh’s Wild Hunt depending on how it’s been transliterated.

You’ll find here: http://kupala-library.iatp.by/bel_lit/content2.html

[1] This from the O.E.D.’s competitor – “The distinction between hanged and hung is not an especially useful one (although a few commentators claim otherwise). It is, however, a simple one and easy to remember. Therein lies its popularity. If you make a point of observing the distinction in your writing you will not thereby become a better writer, but you will spare yourself the annoyance of being corrected for having done something that is not wrong.”
(Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, 1994)