Home > 1940, Belgian Literature, Noir, Polar, Simenon Georges, TBR20 > The Outlaw by Georges Simenon

The Outlaw by Georges Simenon

November 11, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Outlaw by Georges Simenon (1941). Original French title: L’outlaw.

C’était terrible ! Stan était trop intelligent. Il avait conscience d’être aussi intelligent, sinon plus, que n’importe qui. Il pensait à tout !

Il savait même qu’il allait faire une bêtise et pourtant il était incapable de ne pas la faire ! Comment expliquer cela ?

It was terrible! Stan was too intelligent. He was aware of his being as intelligent as anyone else, if not more. He thought of everything.

He even knew that he was about to do something stupid and yet he was unable not to do it! How to explain this?  

Simenon_outlawWhen The Outlaw opens, it’s night, it’s winter and Stan and his girlfriend Nouchi are walking around in Paris. They’re broke and cannot go back to their cheap hotel because they haven’t paid for the room and they know that the owner will be on the prowl, waiting for his payment or to throw them out.

Stan is Polish and Nouchi is Hungarian. They are both illegal migrants in the Paris of the 1930s. They’ve been together for a while and have come back to Europe after a few years in New York. We soon understand that they had to leave after Stan did something stupid.

The first chapters are poignant as Stan feels trapped in his penniless life. He lives in constant fear of the police. They  walk around, looking for an open café to warm themselves a bit. They are desperate. They’re not allowed to work, they’ve already gotten all the money they could from friends. We follow Stan’s train of thoughts and he doesn’t see the end of the tunnel.

Il marchait. Il pensait. Il pensait durement, méchamment. Ses narines se pinçaient et il serrait les poings. Il n’avait pas le droit de s’asseoir sur un banc, car il aurait attiré l’attention et la première idée de n’importe quel agent serait de lui demander ses papiers ! He walked. He was thinking. He was thinking harshly, meanly. His nose was pinched and his fists were clenched. He couldn’t sit on a bench because it would have drawn attention to him and the first idea any deputy would get was to has him for his papers.

Nouchi and Stan need food and shelter. Exhaustion plays dirty tricks with Stan’s mind. He comes with the idea to bargain with the police: for 5000 francs, he will give them information about a gang of Polish criminals who operate from the same shabby hotel as the one they’re staying in. Instead, they want him to infiltrate the gang.

Simenon_outlaw_EnglishFrom there starts a rather confusing hide-and-seek game. The police are using Stan’s information but are still surveilling him. They are also staking out the Polish gang. I never quite understood whether the police were already aware of this gang’s activities or if Stan put them on it. Stan hopes to leave that mess scot-free and with the money. But Stan isn’t as clever as he thinks and he’s driven by fear, a bad adviser. He’s a young thug who isn’t brave enough to be as violent as his thug persona would require to and he can’t help wanting to earn easy money.

It could have been a great book if the plot had been polished a bit. It feels like it’s been written in a hurry and not edited much. I was more interested in the setting, the Paris of that time and Stan’s status than in the actual story.

It sounds strange to consider Polish and Hungarian citizens as illegal migrants as Poland and Hungary are now part of the EU and we can live wherever we want in the Union. Stan’s current nationality reminds us of the political instability in Europe.

Je suis né à Wilno. Donc, avant la guerre, j’étais russe. Après, nous avons été lithuaniens… Les Polonais sont venus mais, au fond, nous sommes toujours lithuaniens. I was born in Wilno. So before the war, I was Russian. Then we became Lithuanian…The Poles came but deep down, we remained Lithuanian.

All this in a life time. I can’t imagine what it was for them. (Of course, I picked up on this since Romain Gary was born in 1914 un Wilno.)

Simenon gives a chilling idea of what it was (is?) to be an illegal migrant. Stan and Spa from Spa Sleeps by Dinev would understand each other at some level although Spa isn’t willing to do become a criminal to get money.

That part was more appealing to me than the rest and Simenon set Stan’s state-of-mind really well and prepared the reader to understand what he did later. There’s no excuse for crimes but there are explanations on how criminals got there. More about this later this month with my billet about Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach.

This was #TBR20 number 16.

  1. November 11, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Great review Emma.

    As you allude to, though this takes place in a very different time involving different nationalities, the issue of undocumented people is a timely one.

    I agree, one does not have to accept crimes in order to better understand what motivates people to commit them.

    Like

    • November 11, 2015 at 10:21 pm

      Thanks Brian.

      I can’t imagine what it is to be surviving like this: always in fear of the police, always wondering how to get money.

      Like

  2. davidsimmons6
    November 11, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Your review stimulated me to order it. Thanks. Simenon seemed to have a thing for Polish Stans and Polish gangs.

    Like

    • November 11, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      Why would you say he had a thing for “Polish Stans and Polish gangs”? Is there another character like Stan in another of his books?

      Like

      • davidsimmons6
        November 12, 2015 at 2:22 am

        Dear Emma,

        You asked: “Why would you say he had a thing for “Polish Stans and Polish gangs”? Is there another character like Stan in another of his books?”

        The answer is yes. Subjectively a Maigretophile, I relied on this remarkable resource: http://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm for objectivity. The references below follow the chronology of publication.

        Simenon introduced this ‘Polish’ theme in the very first Maigret story, Pietr the Latvian. (“The notorious Polish gang whose leaders all ended on the scaffold went in for killing.”)

        But it really got going with Stan the Killer, (“During the past four years a gang of Poles… had attacked five farms, always in Northern France… the farms had always been isolated ones, the farmers in each case had been elderly people… they killed everyone they found on the farm including children…”)

        In Maigret and the Spinster, it sounds like the same gang. (“A gang of Poles, 5 or 6 of them, were holed up in the squalid Hôtel des Arcades. One of them, nicknamed the Baron, had changed a bill stolen from the Vansittart farm, at a parimutuel window at Longchamps.”)

        In Maigret and the Surly Inspector, Stan’s back. (“In October of the previous winter a Pole, Stan the Killer, who had attacked a number of farms in the north of France, had holed up in a small hotel at the corner of the Rue de Birague and the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antone.”)

        In Maigret and the Spinster, Maigret is investigating “a Polish gang of criminals.”

        In Maigret’s Dead Man, the gang persists. (“As a few Poles were living in the area, and no Czechs, some people talked about a Polish gang.”)

        In Maigret’s Memoirs, Stan and the gang hang on. (“M knew a Polish woman, who shared a hotel room on Rue Saint-Antoine with five men, whom she used to send out on robberies, rewarding those who were successful in her own fashion.”)

        In Maigret and the Gangsters, Maigret recalls, “a Pole who had for months terrorized the farms in the North and finally holed up in a little hotel in Paris, armed to the teeth.”

        And finally, in Maigret Sets a Trap. (“M had been studying all the historical cases which bore some resemblance… Jack the Ripper, the Düsseldorf Vampire, the Viennese lamplighter, and the Pole who operated among the farms in the Aisne Department.”

        It is this consistency, even if intermittent, that made me a Simenon fan.

        Like

        • November 12, 2015 at 10:48 pm

          That’s incredible, thanks a lot for this comment.

          Well “During the past four years a gang of Poles… had attacked five farms, always in Northern France… the farms had always been isolated ones, the farmers in each case had been elderly people… they killed everyone they found on the farm including children…”, this idea of crime is present in The Outlaw.

          It’s fascinating to see how he recycled ideas from one book to the other.

          Like

  3. November 11, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    It sounds a great premise, so it’s a shame it’s not a great book. Stan’s situation sounds claustrophobic and highly dangerous, which is classic noir territory. Why did you pick this particular Simenon?

    Like

    • November 11, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      It is classic noir territory.

      I picked this one after reading the blurb and seeing the French cover. I wanted to read a Simenon that wasn’t a Maigret. I should have asked Guy which one I should choose.

      Like

  4. November 11, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Even though you weren’t completely sold on this one, I do think it sounds interesting. The wandering-around-the-city element reminds me a little of the Simenon I read earlier this year, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, which was inspired by the author’s relationship with a woman he met in NYC in the 1940s. Nice link to Spas Sleeps, too – as you say, very topical in light of the current migrant crisis in Europe. Excellent review as ever, Emma.

    Like

    • November 11, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      I’ll read other books by him, even if I didn’t like this one as much as I expected.
      I wonder how he managed to write so many books. It’s not a surprise that some are better than others.

      I couldn’t help thinking about Spa, this story stayed with me.

      Like

  5. November 12, 2015 at 12:32 am

    I have a non fiction book which gives a plot synopsis of each title and a rating. This one is rated 3/5. BTW, it looks as though he wrote a number of books that year. It took him just two weeks to write some books and he averaged 4-5 titles a year. In 1928, he wrote 44 books!

    Like

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks for the info.
      That was my rating on Goodreads too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. November 12, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    I was thinking of you the other day because you are French and reading in English, and I am from the United States and was reading a couple of graphic novels in French!

    Like

    • November 12, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      I do read in French as well! 🙂

      What graphic novels were you reading?

      Like

      • November 12, 2015 at 11:03 pm

        The Rabbi’s Cat and Vampire Lives by Joann Sfar.

        Like

        • November 14, 2015 at 6:03 pm

          I heard they’re great. Joann Sfar did wonderful drawings for one of my favorite books, Promise at Dawn.

          Like

          • November 14, 2015 at 10:05 pm

            I liked The Rabbi’s Cat a lot more out of the two.

            Like

            • November 15, 2015 at 10:30 pm

              That’s his most famous one, I think. I should read it.

              Liked by 1 person

      • November 12, 2015 at 11:03 pm

        Loves, not lives

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