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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 197

Simenon’s first novel was published in 1922; the Maigret series was begun in 1931. Thus The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By is an early novel, but it is not apprentice work; Simenon was a full-time writer of pulp fiction during the 1920’s and had already published more than fifty novels under various names and written nineteen of the Inspector Maigret stories before writing The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By. The novel lacks the sophistication of some of Simenon’s later narratives in that it is linear and uncomplicated and contains only one character of any depth. Nevertheless, its unobtrusive neatness of line, its realism, its particularity, and its grimness are characteristic of later and better-known works. The psychological, not the factual, emphasis which marks Inspector Maigret is evident even in those novels in which he does not appear. Perhaps Simenon may be compared to Arthur Conan Doyle, who also created a fictional detective so fascinating that he overshadowed his creator’s other works. Maigret aside, Simenon is a vastly prolific craftsman who can make comprehensible the apparently bizarre psyche with conviction and economy. He is a novelist whose success has paradoxically overshadowed his achievement.

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