Before getting into the book itself, I thought it would be useful to get a little more info about Simenon himself—aside from the fact that he was a great showman. Below is a brief outline of Simenon and his career, straight from the New York Review Books Reading Group Guide, which is also worth checking out.
Georges Simenon (1903–1989), wrote over 400 novels and collections of short stories and sold hundreds of millions of copies of his books in 55 languages.
He was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1903 and went to work as a reporter at the age of fifteen. In 1923 he moved to Paris, becoming a highly successful and prolific author of pulp fiction under various pseudonyms. By the early 1930s, Simenon had emerged as a writer under his own name, introducing his most famous character, the laconic Inspector Maigret. He also began to write his psychological novels or romans durs (literally íhard novelsë: not difficult, but hard as opposed to soft). In these books he displays his remarkable talent for capturing the look and mood of a place—whether West Africa, the Soviet Union, New York City, or provincial France—as well as a sympathetic awareness of the emotional and spiritual pain underlying the routines of daily life. Joyce Carol Oates describes these novels as “a sequence of cinematic confrontations in which an individual—male, middle-aged, unwittingly trapped in his life—is catapulted into an extraordinary adventure that will leave him transformed, unless destroyed.”
In 1973, as the best-selling author in the world with countless movie and television adaptations to his credit, Simenon retired as a novelist and devoted himself to dictating memoirs that filled thousands of pages. He died in 1989.
Here’s a list of some other online resources:
As mentioned in the intro post, Bookforum recently ran an excellent overview by Luc Sante;
A film of The Engagement was released in 1989 under the title Monsieur Hire, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Michel Blanc;
And for Francophiles, here’s a link to Le Centre d’études Georges Simenon et le Fonds Simenon de l’Université de Liège.