Georges Simenon's 'Dirty Snow' (1948) is a grim, claustrophobic, if somewhat typical, examination of the human psyche by the Belgian master of the psychological novel.
Taking place in an unnamed country existing under the occupation of an amoral foreign power, 'Dirty Snow' depicts a fallen, sordid world which is equal parts Franz Kafka, Jean Rhys, and Jean Genet, though Simenon's protagonist, Frank Friedmaier, lacks the transcendent spiritual insight which elevated Genet's antiheroes above the common thief, corner boy, street thug, and murderer.
'Dirty Snow' is the story of a spoiled, narcissistic, and unfocused sociopath whose boredom with his own aimless existence leads him to casually manipulate, abuse, rob, or murder a number of innocent neighborhood citizens. Like the characters in Genet, Frank kills because he wants to, because the male cronies he admires boast that they have committed murders of their own, and because he wants to establish some definite marker in his history to justify his life to himself.
Oddly obsessed with Holst, his older male neighbor across the hall, Frank, who lives with his shrewish, brothel-keeping mother, seduces and then casts aside naïve young Sissy, Holst's daughter, for the sheer sport of it. But Frank's seduction of Sissy is also partially an act of unrealized homosexual sublimation, as absolutely nothing Frank does arouses Holst's attention. Though Holst all but witnesses Frank committing his first murder, and could reasonably assume that Frank is the person who has violated his daughter's body, health, and spirit during his absence, Holst remains utterly passive.
'Dirty Snow' is one of Simenon's more critically respected novels, but while the first two-thirds are gripping and suspenseful, the last third, in which Frank is arrested and incarcerated by the occupying administration, is dull, undramatic, and far too long.
In 'The Miracle of the Rose' (1951), Genet brought his solitary prisoners to vibrant, shadow-casting life; but Frank's incarceration plods on uneventfully for over 60 pages, and Frank completely lacks the rich inner fabric of Genet's "saints," dreaming social misfits, transvestites, and randy, strutting alpha males. It is difficult to fathom why Simenon chose to conclude the novel as he does, since the anticlimactic ending deflates a book which had the potential to become a minor classic.