Critical Context

The Blue Room appeared in the last decade of Simenon’s career as a fiction writer. Between 1922, when he published his first novel, and 1972, when he announced that he would write no more fiction, Simenon authored more than 280 books. The Blue Room belongs in the category which he describes as “tragedy-novels.” Usually these novels begin in a crisis, unravel its causes through a psychological investigation of the people involved, and proceed to a conclusion which is a logical but not necessary consequence of the events which have gone before. In his mature novels of this kind, Simenon uses a double plot: The truth unravels slowly, the suspense builds, because the knowledge may not be available in time to prevent a tragedy.

Like his famous inspector, often regarded as an incarnation of the author’s creative process, Simenon thinks himself into the skins of ordinary, limited people who happen to commit criminal, violent, or irrational acts. When Georges Simenon, or Inspector Maigret, has finished, the event is seen to be not merely an accident but more the product of character, past events, environment, and opportunity, all fatefully conjoined. Like the Greeks, Simenon does not believe in free will. Also like them, he presents the harsh doctrine of necessity in many guises, using a short space of time, a limited cast, and a stark outline.

Nevertheless, Simenon’s plate-glass style gives the reader a window on the world of mean urban streets, stuffy bourgeois interiors, small villages, and petty towns. His people are unprepossessing, ordinary, lonely, often incompetent, leading lives of routine desperation. The moment of action breaks the pattern, but the result is never fortunate.

Though the tragic pattern creates similarities of structure, each novel is particularized: The main characters and their settings are carefully dovetailed. The Blue Room is an excellent example of Simenon’s technical brilliance and of his tragedy-novels.