9 January 2015

Review: THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY, Georges Simenon

  • first published in French 1938
  • this edition published by Penguin as a Red Classic 2006
  • translated by Stuart Gilbert with revisions by David Watson
  • ISBN 0-141-02587-5
  • 211 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #7 from Simenon
Synopsis (Amazon)

Of Simenon's many novels, certain titles stand out as classics. This terrifying reconstruction of a madman's mind is one of them.

Known in the little Dutch town of Groningen as a respectable family man, Kees Popinga is the managing clerk of a reputed shipping firm. But when the company collapses under dubious circumstances just before Christmas, taking all his money with it, something snaps in Popinga's mind. From the shell of this model citizen emerges a calculating paranoiac, capable of random acts of violence - even murder. The fugitive Popinga makes his way to Paris, playing a bizarre game of cat and mouse with the police - determined to force a hostile world to recognize his newfound criminal genius ...


In The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By, Simenon created a compelling portrait of a man pushed too far, vividly reconstructing the effect on a mind in the spiralling grip of madness.

My Take

THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY is one of Simenon's "psychological novels". At first Kees Popinga seems absolutely normal but something snaps when he finds out that his boss is going to fake suicide and that the company he works for is going under, taking his life savings with it. It now seems that he has worked all his life for nothing and he feels released to explore his "other self". There have been signs of mental inbalance that have emerged before, but they have been kept tightly reined in by other people's expectations, and Popinga's own concepts of right and wrong.

Now the inhibitions have gone and he deserts his family and takes himself to Amsterdam to visit a woman of ill-repute, Pamela, who dies as a result of his visit. From there Popinga goes to Paris where he becomes involved in a car heist and is constantly preoccupied with reports about himself in the newspapers.

This is not a Maigret novel although the policeman in charge of looking for Popinga is Superintendent Lucas who of course in the Maigret novels is Maigret's lieutenant. Popinga wants newspaper readers to have an accurate version of his achievements and so he writes to newspaper editors and then to Lucas himself to correct details that he thinks have been inaccurately reported. He is insulted when a French professor of psychiatry says he is paranoic, although he is not quite sure what that means.

As the plot progresses Popinga becomes increasingly detached from normality, not really understanding the hole he is digging for himself.

My Rating: 4.2

About the film:
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1952) is a crime drama film, released in the United Kingdom with an all-European cast, including Claude Rains in the lead role. Rains plays the role of Kees Popinga, who is infatuated with Michele Rozier (Märta Torén). The film was released in the United States in 1953 under the title The Paris Express. It was directed by Harold French and based on the novel by Georges Simenon.

I've also reviewed
4.4, MAIGRET & the MAN on the BOULEVARD
4.5, MAIGRET & THE HEADLESS CORPSE
4.3, PIETR THE LATVIAN
THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET
4.4, THE RULES OF THE GAME

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I've always thought it interesting that Simenon had these two very different kinds of novels. There's the Maigret series and then there are these very dark, sometimes disturbing novels. Interesting...

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