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Dirty Snow (1948)

by Georges Simenon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7332322,081 (3.79)22
A brilliant new translation of Simenon's critically acclaimed masterpiece. 'And always the dirty snow, the heaps of snow that look rotten, with black patches and embedded garbage ... unable to cover the filth.' Nineteen-year-old Frank - thug, thief, son of a brothel owner - gets by surprisingly well despite living in a city under military occupation, but a warm house and a full stomach are not enough to make him feel truly alive in such a climate of deceit and betrayal. During a bleak, unending winter, he embarks on a string of violent and sordid crimes that set him on a path from which he can never return. Georges Simenon's matchless novel is a brutal, compelling portrayal of a world without pity; a devastating journey through a psychological no-man's land. 'Among the best novels of the twentieth century' New Yorker 'An astonishing work' John Banville 'So noir it makes Raymond Chandler look beige' Independent… (more)
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English (18)  Italian (2)  Portuguese (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Of Simenon's important - that is, non-Maigret - work, this is the finest example. P-leeease don't think that because who-dunnits aren't your thing that this side of Simenon is to be dismissed. The man is a literary giant of the twentieth century. Honestly. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |


In the world of novel writing, Georges Simenon was a natural, a kind of Mozart of the novel. He quit school for good as a teenager, never participated in a writing workshop, never enrolled in a writing program and never attended a writing class. With his innate ear for language and dialogue, eye for detail and feel for storytelling, all he needed was four dozen freshly sharpened pencils lined up on his desk and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign to hang on his door. And presto – a first-rate novel written at fever pitch in two weeks. Goodness, what some writers wouldn’t give to have a fraction of his talent.

After ten years of writing dime store potboilers, Simenon decided to get more serious and started writing his Detective Maigret novels. A few years after pumping out detective novels, again Simenon decided to become even more serious and thus began writing what he sometimes characterized as romans durs, that is, “straight novels” or “hard novels,” meaning hard on the reader. P.D. James termed these Simenon third phase books as “dark novels.” Personally, I like the sound of all three together: straight, hard and dark. And let me tell you folks, Dirty Snow is exactly that - straight as in straight psychological study (a mile away from detective fiction), hard as in very hard on the reader and dark as in the deep recesses of the human psyche.

Simenon’s novels are nearly always strict point-of-view narratives where readers see people and unfolding events only as the main character sees them. With Dirty Snow, the novel’s main character is a burly eighteen-year-old by the name of Frank Friedmaier, a despicable lout if there ever was one.

The novel isn’t written in first-person but it’s a close cousin – in each and every scene it’s as if we are standing directly behind Frank, gazing over his brawny, swinish shoulder. Judging this novel set in an unnamed European city under World War II-type foreign military occupation as hard on the reader would be understatement; anyone opening the book’s pages had better be prepared for a story that’s tough to swallow; actually, on further reflection, make that extremely tough to swallow.

At various points in the narrative Dirty Snow reminded me of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (random youth violence), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (eerie dystopia), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (state sponsored fear) and Franz Kafka’s The Trial (nightmarish interrogations). Likewise Albert Camus’ 1945 novel, The Stranger, written three year prior to Simenon’s, in the sense Dirty Snow is coated with existential alienation as snow in the novel is coated with dirt, and also is structurally similar to The Stranger in that it is divided into two distinct parts – Frank living on the outside and Frank shut up on the inside.

My strong sense is if Georges Simenon didn’t write all those potboilers and Detective Maigret novels and only wrote a few of his romans durs, then Dirty Snow would be studied and discussed alongside such classics of existentialism as The Stranger and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. Now I can see why George Simenon thought himself worthy of the Nobel Prize and resented publishers and literati who labeled him a hack catering to the clamoring, detective fiction-loving rabble.

In the first chapter we learn Frank links sex with violence and feels inferior to other, slightly older men who have committed murders, thus Frank plans to murder his first man, a fat officer in the army of occupation known as the Eunuch who is drinking in a bar, murder him with a knife that very evening as a kind of rite of passage. We also come to understand Frank has an odd relationship with an older man, his neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, a man we might infer is a kind of father figure for Frank.

Frank waits in the snow of the back alley, knife at the ready, waiting for the Eunuch to walk out of the bar. Just at that moment Holst walks down the alley. Holst would never see him pressed up against the wall but Frank coughs to make sure Holst knows he is there. Frank reflects: “Of course it wasn’t because of Holst that he was going to kill the Eunuch. That was already decided. It was just that, at that moment, his act had made no sense. It had been almost a joke, a childish prank. What was it he had said? Like losing his virginity.” Let us recall how in traditional societies the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood does not happen in isolation but is a community event, witnessed by older men. Perhaps Frank yearns for such a communal passage.

The plot quickly thickens. I highly recommended this penetrating existential novel published by New York Review Books since there is a most insightful ten page Afterward written by William T. Vollmann. Afterward rather than Introduction is ideal in this case - under the assumption one has already read Dirty Snow, Vollmann critiques the novel in detail without risking giving anything away. At one point Vollmann observes: “Here is Simenon’s genius. Frank wants to be recognized. He wants to be known. He scarcely knows himself, or anything else worth knowing. But if he can somehow stand revealed to the gaze of the Other, then maybe he will achieve some sort of realization. Don’t you and I want to be more real than we are? And wouldn’t it be convenient if somebody else could help us get there?” I hope your literary appetite has been whetted. Again, highly recommended.


Georges Simenon - The first cup of coffee. Awake at 6:00, he prepares it himself and drinks it installed at his machine. He gives himself until 9:00 to write a whole chapter. He works only by electric light. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |



In the world of novel writing, Georges Simenon was a natural, a kind of Mozart of the novel. He quit school for good as a teenager, never participated in a writing workshop, never enrolled in a writing program and never attended a writing class. With his innate ear for language and dialogue, eye for detail and feel for storytelling, all he needed was four dozen freshly sharpened pencils lined up on his desk and a “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on his door. And presto – a first-rate novel written at fever pitch in two weeks. Goodness, what some writers wouldn’t give to have a fraction of his talent.

After ten years of writing dime store potboilers, Simenon decided to get more serious and started writing his Detective Maigret novels. A few years after pumping out detective novels, again Simenon decided to become even more serious and thus began writing what he sometimes characterized as romans durs, that is, “straight novels” or “hard novels,” meaning hard on the reader. P.D. James termed these Simenon third phase books as “dark novels.” Personally, I like the sound of all three together: straight, hard and dark. And let me tell you folks, Dirty Snow is exactly that - straight as in a mile away from detective fiction, hard as in very hard on the reader and dark as in the deep recesses of the human psyche.

Simenon’s novels are nearly always strict point-of-view narratives where readers see people and unfolding events only as the main character sees them. With Dirty Snow, the novel’s main character is a burly eighteen-year-old by the name of Frank Friedmaier, a despicable lout if there ever was one. The novel isn’t written in first-person but it’s a close cousin – in each and every scene it’s as if we are standing directly behind Frank, gazing over his brawny, swinish shoulder. Judging this novel set in an unnamed European city under World War II-type foreign military occupation as hard on the reader would be understatement; anyone opening the book’s pages had better be prepared for a story that’s tough to swallow; actually, on further reflection, make that extremely tough to swallow.

At various points in the narrative Dirty Snow reminded me of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (random youth violence), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (eerie dystopia), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (state sponsored fear) and Franz Kafka’s The Trial (nightmarish interrogations). Likewise Albert Camus’ 1945 novel, The Stranger, written three year prior to Simenon’s, in the sense Dirty Snow is coated with existential alienation as snow in the novel is coated with dirt, and also is structurally similar to The Stranger in that it is divided into two distinct parts – Frank living on the outside and Frank shut up on the inside.

My strong sense is if Georges Simenon didn’t write all those potboilers and Detective Maigret novels and only wrote a few of his romans durs, then Dirty Snow would be studied and discussed alongside such classics of existentialism as The Stranger and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. Now I can see why George Simenon thought himself worthy of the Nobel Prize and resented publishers and literati who labeled him a hack catering to the clamoring, detective fiction-loving rabble.

In the first chapter we learn Frank links sex with violence and feels inferior to other, slightly older men who have committed murders, thus Frank plans to murder his first man, a fat officer in the army of occupation known as the Eunuch who is drinking in a bar, murder him with a knife that very evening as a kind of rite of passage. We also come to understand Frank has an odd relationship with an older man, his neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, a man we might infer is a kind of father figure for Frank.

Franks waits in the snow of the back alley, knife at the ready, waiting for the Eunuch to walk out of the bar. Just at that moment Holst walks down the alley. Holst would never see him pressed up against the wall but Frank coughs to make sure Holst knows he is there. Frank reflects: “Of course it wasn’t because of Holst that he was going to kill the Eunuch. That was already decided. It was just that, at that moment, his act had made no sense. It had been almost a joke, a childish prank. What was it he had said? Like losing his virginity.” Let us recall how in traditional societies the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood does not happen in isolation but is a community event, witnessed by older men. Perhaps Frank yearns for such a communal passage.

The plot quickly thickens. I highly recommended this penetrating existential novel published by New York Review Books since there is a most insightful ten page Afterward written by William T. Vollmann. Afterward rather than Introduction is ideal in this case - under the assumption one has already read Dirty Snow, Vollmann critiques the novel in detail without risking giving anything away. At one point Vollmann observes: “Here is Simenon’s genius. Frank wants to be recognized. He wants to be known. He scarcely knows himself, or anything else worth knowing. But if he can somehow stand revealed to the gaze of the Other, then maybe he will achieve some sort of realization. Don’t you and I want to be more real than we are? And wouldn’t it be convenient if somebody else could help us get there?” I hope your literary appetite has been whetted. Again, highly recommended.


Georges Simenon - The first cup of coffee. Awake at 6:00, he prepares it himself and drinks it installed at his machine. He gives himself until 9:00 to write a whole chapter. He works only by electric light. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
wow how dark and dirty can you get? Simenon surpasses the likes of Camus, Kafka in this bleak novel. close to five stars, its just the third part gets a bit annoying, but how to describe a senseless life in an interesting way? excellent afterword. there is just one tiny spark of light in this novel as Frank has a desire to be part of a family, exemplified by the obsession with the young woman in the window of an apartment building opposite of the prison. in a world as dark as this, this tiny light shines as bright as the morning star. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
It's winter in an occupied country. Frank, a 19-year old living on the fringes in the brothel his mother runs, wants to kill someone because every else has. Somehow, I had envisioned Simenon as the writer of somewhat tidy police procedurals, but this is deep, dark noir, as unlike a "cozy" mystery as anything I can imagine. It works as a psychological study of a disturbed, murderous mind, as a picture of the bleakness of life in an occupied country (unnamed, but presumed to be France during WW II), and as a cat and mouse game of crime solving. I'll be reading more Simenon, a lot more. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jan 25, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georges Simenonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Curtis, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pujol, CarlosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ricart, Rosa M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vollmann, William T.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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But for quite a chance incident, what Frank Friedmaier did that night would have been no more than relatively important.
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It was a game he had invented, like the games he used to make up as a child, which he alone understood. It had usually been in his bed in the morning, while Madame Porse was preparing breakfast, and preferably when it was sunny outside. His eyes closed, he would think, for example, "Fly!" Then he would half open his eyes, looking at a certain spot on the wallpaper. If there was a fly there, he won. Now he might have said, "Destiny!" NYRB Ed p 133
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A brilliant new translation of Simenon's critically acclaimed masterpiece. 'And always the dirty snow, the heaps of snow that look rotten, with black patches and embedded garbage ... unable to cover the filth.' Nineteen-year-old Frank - thug, thief, son of a brothel owner - gets by surprisingly well despite living in a city under military occupation, but a warm house and a full stomach are not enough to make him feel truly alive in such a climate of deceit and betrayal. During a bleak, unending winter, he embarks on a string of violent and sordid crimes that set him on a path from which he can never return. Georges Simenon's matchless novel is a brutal, compelling portrayal of a world without pity; a devastating journey through a psychological no-man's land. 'Among the best novels of the twentieth century' New Yorker 'An astonishing work' John Banville 'So noir it makes Raymond Chandler look beige' Independent

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