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Summary

"A new translation, by David Bellos, of this chilling novel, set on the Belgian border.

"She wasn't an ordinary supplicant. She didn't lower her eyes. There was nothing humble about her bearing. She spoke frankly, looking straight ahead, as if to claim what was rightfully hers. If you don't agree to look at our case, my parents and I will be lost, and it will be the most hateful legal error...."

Maigret is asked to the windswept, rainy border town of Givet by a young woman desperate to clear her family of murder. But their well-kept shop, the sleepy community, and its raging river all hide their own mysteries.

Georges Simenon was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1903. Best known in Britain as the author of the Maigret books, his prolific output of over 400 novels and short stories have made him a household name in continental Europe. He died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he had lived for the latter part of his life.

©2015 Georges Simenon (P)2015 Audible, Ltd

Critic reviews

"Compelling, remorseless, brilliant" (John Gray)
"One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century... Simenon was unequalled at making us look inside, though the ability was masked by his brilliance at absorbing us obsessively in his stories" ( Guardian)
"A supreme writer... unforgettable vividness" ( Independent)

What listeners say about The Flemish House

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Culture clash…

Maigret has been approached by a young woman, Anna Peeters, who wants his help. Her family is suspected of having killed another young woman, the lover of Joseph, Anna’s brother, and the mother of his child. Anna fears the local police are about to arrest them and wants Maigret to investigate separately. Since Anna has been introduced to him by an old friend, Maigret agrees, and heads to the small town of Givet on the Belgian border to look into the matter in an unofficial capacity.

This is a short one even by Maigret standards, coming in at just 132 pages, or 3 hours for the audiobook. It gives an interesting picture of a border town, looking in two directions and split between French and Belgian cultures. Simenon was Belgian by birth, although he moved to France as a young man. Here he shows how the French people in Givet look down on the Flemish residents, and because the Peeters family have done well for themselves they also meet with a lot of resentment, of the kind that suggests they are aiming above their station as members of a “lower” culture.

The Peeters themselves behave as if they think they are something special. The missing girl is a young French girl called Germaine Piedbouef and the Peeters see her as too common to marry their precious Joseph, who anyway is more or less betrothed to his cousin Marguerite. Germaine was last seen when she visited the Peeters’ house, looking for the monthly allowance that Joseph paid her for the maintenance of the child. Although no body has been found, the local police are assuming that she has been murdered and that the Peeters must have been involved, either having committed the murder as a group or at the least covering up for whichever one of them did the deed.

Maigret is less sure – perhaps the girl has simply given up hope that Joseph will marry her and run away to Paris, or perhaps despair has caused her to take her own life. And so he wanders around Givet talking to people, drinking plenty of the local Flemish drink of choice, genever (a kind of gin, apparently), and waiting for the local police to find Germaine, dead or alive. He becomes increasingly fascinated by the Peeters family. To him Joseph seems an unremarkable, rather weak young man, but his mother, sisters and cousin Marguerite all adore him immoderately and see him as the centre of their world. Anna particularly intrigues Maigret – she seems so sure of herself, so unemotional, but determined. He realises she is the true centre of the family, the person who holds them together and gives them strength.

Maigret does more actual detection in this one than is sometimes the case, and as always his setting is very well portrayed, with the added interest of the mixed culture. The dynamics within the Peeters family is also shown very believably, from a time when men were seen as the most important members of a family due largely to their greater opportunities to have a career and a place in the public sphere. The ending is a little odd in that it left me wondering why Maigret decided to do what he did – vague to avoid spoilers, sorry – but it added an interesting element to his character. A good one, and as usual the excellent narration by Gareth Armstrong added to my enjoyment. 4½ stars for me, so rounded up.

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Simenon - a French genius.

Another wonderful story by the magnificent Georges Simenon, wonderfully read by Gareth Armstrong. The sad thing about Simenon's novels is their brevity. l could listen to Armstrong read his beautifully crafted sparce and poetical lines all day long. There's not a single wasted word in a Simenon novel, and his stories are universally excellent, morally ambiguous and profoundly affecting. Simenon truly understood human nature in all of its aspects: good, bad and everything in between.

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  • Adeliese Baumann
  • 05-12-16

Rice tart and rain

With the Meuse in flood and a rice tart on the table, Maigret reviews the reason he is far from home in a grocery store on the Belgian border. Joseph, a young man had a child out of wedlock with a girl in Givet. When the girl goes missing, public opinion turns against the family: they accuse them of murdering her.

But there is no body. So why do they believe it was murder? Couldn't she have done a runner?

Family secrets, illusions, deceptions, quayside interrogations, song lyrics, and even an Ursuline convent in Nemours are part of the solution to this melancholy story. It has a wonderfully surprising ending, I think, and leaves one something to consider about Maigret's character.

The character of Anna Peters is compelling. After all "never had a woman aroused Maigret’s curiosity as much" as this. It is not because she is attractive, for she is not. She is, like many of Simenon's characters, someone for whom chances never come.

This is a good one, if grim, and brought back many travel memories for me. Winter on the Belgian border is no place for weaklings.

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