Letter to My Mother by Georges Simenon (#39) ****
I love reading correspondence, and was looking forward to the extended Letter to My Mother, written by Georges Simenon, most famous for his Maigret series of detective novels. This is a ‘stark, confessional letter to his dead mother [which] explores the complexity of parent-child relationships and the bitterness of things unsaid.’ First published in 1974, and translated from its original French by Ralph Manhem, Letter to My Mother is filled with sadness from its beginning. Simenon writes, very early on, ‘As you are well aware, we never loved each other in your lifetime Both of us pretended.’
Simenon grew up in the Belgian city of Liege, and wished to revisit his pained childhood here. A period of three and a half years elapsed between the death of Simenon’s mother and the writing of this letter, and he is almost seventy years old when he puts pen to paper. He tells her about this, stating: ‘perhaps it’s only now that I’m beginning to understand you. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I lived under one roof with you, I lived with you, but when I left for Paris at the age of nineteen, you were still a stranger to me.’ Even when he was young, Simenon was aware of his mother’s problems: ‘You endured life. You didn’t live it.’ He then muses, after speaking of the favour his mother showed his younger brother: ‘It seems to me now that perhaps you needed a villain in the family, and that villain was me.’
The relationship between Simenon and his mother was fraught and complicated. This tender and honest letter details their troubled interactions, and his mother’s lack of warmth toward him. He speaks throughout about the unknown events of his mother’s own childhood, which may have caused her to behave in the disconcerting way which she often did. Writing such a letter is a brave act; it seems a shame that his mother was never able to see it.
Death the Barber by William Carlos Williams (#40) ****
The fortieth Penguin Modern publication is a collection of poetry by William Carlos Williams, entitled Death the Barber. The poems here are ‘filled with bright, unforgettable images… [which] revolutionised American verse, and made him one of the greatest twentieth-century poets.’ I do not recall having read any of Williams’ work prior to this, and was expecting something akin to e.e. cummings. Whilst I was able to draw some similarities between the work of both poets, their work is certainly distinctive and quite vastly different from one another’s.
The poems in Death the Barber are taken from various collections published between 1917 and 1962. Whilst I recognised ‘This Is Just to Say’, the rest of the poems here were new to me, and have certainly sparked an interest within me to read more of Williams’ work. There is so much of interest here, and the varied themes and imagery made it really enjoyable. Whilst some of the poems seem simplistic at first, there is a lot of depth to them. I shall end this review with two of my favourite extracts from this brief collection.
The little sparrows
about the pavement
with sharp voices
over those things
that interest them.
But we who are wiser
shut ourselves in
on either hand
and no one knows
whether we think good
From ‘To Waken an Old Lady’:
Old age is
a flight of small
above a snow glaze.