42. - 602.) The Premier by Georges Simenon (1958) – Over 20 years have gone by since I read one of Simenon’s books. In the past I mainly read the books featuring his famed detective, Maigret. Participating in the 2011 Euro Pass meme encouraged me to look up his books at the library. I decided to read The Premier which is a stand alone novella at 125 pages.
Never named, the former French Premier is 82 and enduring a slow decline in his home on the cliffs of Normandy overlooking the ocean. His days proceed slowly through a rigid routine – up at 5:30, dealing with the few pieces of daily correspondence, meeting an occasional visitor, reading the newspapers, going for a short walk, eating carefully prescribed meals, getting a needle, sitting alone in his study thinking, laying in bed reflecting on his life.
While physically diminished the Premier’s mind is unimpaired. He is not haunted by death. He has lived a long life. He is bored by the life he is living in rural Normandy.
The Premier has cared little about relationships. Friends and family are almost inconsequential. His passion has been politics and he still pays close attention to turbulent French politics. He has been either a Minister or the Premier in 22 governments.
Having already written a 3 volume official set of memoirs he has sent shivers through the French establishment with rumours that he is now writing his real memoirs. He realizes someone within his household is quietly searching for documents and notes.
His estranged protégé, Monsieur Chalamont, is given the opportunity to become Premier. Within his papers the Premier has an explosive secret concerning Chalamont. What will the stern unyielding Premier do with the secret?
Simenon takes the reader deep inside the mind of a proud powerful man near the end of his existence. I thought of The Lion in Winter movie about Henry II. The aged leaders in book and movie are as fierce as ever.
An interesting article on Simenon at the age of 55 can be found at http://www.trussel.com/maig/life58.htm. I recommend reading the story after the book as it discusses The Premier and how it was written.
It is a subtle unconventional mystery in which Simenon skillfully demonstrates his insight into the human psyche. (Aug. 6/11)