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Dirty Snow (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 1000


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (1000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170431
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170434
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #30,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This novel is set in an occupied European city (Paris? The names are Germanic) during WWII (it was first published in 1950). I can certainly see it as a powerful portrait of a people under surveillance, living in poverty, going through a numbing routine of survival with no sense of getting control of their lives. Then, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague; today, Kabul or Bagdad. Is this the only way to read the novel? I do not think so.
There is no political resistance, no underground. No one speaks for the city or nation which is occupied. There are some citizens whom Simenon shows knowing and offering love and mutuality. The authorities could be municipal police as easily as military secret police. The protagonist, Frank, a 17year old hoodlum, thief, thrill-killer, and accessory to murder, is the son of a madam who lives with her girls in an apartment house. Frank is determined to test himself and his inner resources, and the way he chooses, maybe the only way available, is to prove he has the power to remain unmoved by various cruelties and evils he perpetrates. He does what he does by free, rational choice, in cold blood and without remorse. He's hard boiled to the core. And yet, clearly at the end of the book he punishes, and has punished, himself. He is in search of a father (Mr Holst) and a lover (Holst's daughter Sissy), like every young man, but he deliberately puts himself beyond the reach of them, or of any kind of life. He wants to be tortured, and sees himself as wanting and deserving death. I'm not sure exactly what happens to Frank at the end, although he may be about to be executed. Somehow Frank had defined love and fatherly affection as weakness, or perhaps as experiences shut off to him by the very fact that he is the young man he is. Puzzling, noir, mysterious. And a powerful existential novel.
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By "annachaffer" on Jan. 21 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked this up because the back copy compared it to Jim Thompson. The comparison is apt -- Simenon, like Thompson, writes seemingly simple prose laced with menace -- but it doesn't hold up. You can tell Simenon is writing on autopilot some of the time here. Still, when he's fully on, this book is as scary as they come.
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By A Customer on Jan. 14 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is pure noir. It is as disturbing as Thompson's The Killer Inside of Me, with perhaps more insight and thought. Simenon's descriptions of the "occupation" (is it by Germany or the US?) are vivid. Be warned that this is not a conventional mystery. But it is a masterpiece.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 22 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Despair is an expression of the total personality Oct. 24 2006
By Leonard Fleisig - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
doubt only of thought. Soren Kierkegaard

Frank Friedmaier, the protagonist of Georges Simenon's novel "Dirty Snow" seems to have no doubts about his life. In fact he seems to be more a creature of base animal instinct than of anything resembling thought. If he has doubts about anything they are not evident. But his words and deeds bespeak an unconscious despair so profound that the reader can feel it with every page.

Simenon was nothing if not prolific in both his literary and public life. Born in Belgium in 1903, Simenon turned out hundreds of novels. Simenon's obsession with writing caused him to break off an affair (he was prolific in this area of his life as well) with the celebrated Josephine Baker in Paris when he could only write twelve novels in the twelve month period in which they were involved. Although perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret detective novels, Simenon also wrote over a hundred novels that he referred to as `romans durs' (literally "hard novels"). "Dirty Snow" is one of Simenon's hard novels and to call it noir is an understatement. "Dirty Snow" is darker than noir, devoid of any light or optimism. In the hands of Simenon it is an absorbing (entertaining seems an inapt word) look at the darker side of life.

Frank Friedmaier lives in his mother's brothel in a small apartment building. The brothel is in an unnamed city in occupied France during World War II. Frank divides his time between the brothel and a local bar inhabited by an assortment of shady characters that include low level criminals, women of `easy virtue', and the occasional German soldier. When he returns home at night he camps down with whichever one of his mother's employees suits his fancy. What follows may best be described as nasty, brutish, and short. There is no affection, not even feigned affection, just feral activity.

The book follows Frank's descent into increasingly lower levels of behavior. He decides the time has come to kill a man, lies in wait in some snow that had been dirtied by the day's activities, and then takes a knife to a German soldier and stabs him to death. He reveals his presence to a passing neighbor, the father of a young girl who Frank seems to like, just so that the neighbor will know that Frank has murdered the soldier. Frank is confident that the neighbor will keep the information to himself. Frank next plans a robbery. The robbery is successful but Frank soon finds himself in a German prison subject to repeated interrogations. By the end of the book Frank has completed a journey that has taken him on a journey through what Dante would have considered different layers of hel l.

The fascinating aspect of Dirty Snow for me lay in the narration. Simenon has pulled off a neat trick here. The narrator is Frank and we are privy to his innermost thoughts, such as they are. Yet it is the absence of thought and the inability to evince any feeling in a rational manner that grabs the reader. There are sections, particularly those involving the daughter of the neighbor who witnessed the killing, where you can almost sense that Frank would like to act on a normal level with normal emotions. He may come close but he always retreats. As Dirty Snow ends, in a courtyard in the prison, Simenon has Frank perform one simple act involving an article of clothing. It is an act that Frank has long observed of the other prisoners. His instinctive performance of that act brings Franks journey and the book to its inevitable end.

Dirty Snow is a fascinating, if dark, look at one small aspect of the human condition. I found it well worth reading. L. Fleisig
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
heroic self testing and self hatred Jan. 22 2004
By J. A. Gertzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This novel is set in an occupied European city (Paris? The names are Germanic) during WWII (it was first published in 1950). I can certainly see it as a powerful portrait of a people under surveillance, living in poverty, going through a numbing routine of survival with no sense of getting control of their lives. Then, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague; today, Kabul or Bagdad. Is this the only way to read the novel? I do not think so.
There is no political resistance, no underground. No one speaks for the city or nation which is occupied. There are some citizens whom Simenon shows knowing and offering love and mutuality. The authorities could be municipal police as easily as military secret police. The protagonist, Frank, a 17year old hoodlum, thief, thrill-killer, and accessory to murder, is the son of a madam who lives with her girls in an apartment house. Frank is determined to test himself and his inner resources, and the way he chooses, maybe the only way available, is to prove he has the power to remain unmoved by various cruelties and evils he perpetrates. He does what he does by free, rational choice, in cold blood and without remorse. He's hard boiled to the core. And yet, clearly at the end of the book he punishes, and has punished, himself. He is in search of a father (Mr Holst) and a lover (Holst's daughter Sissy), like every young man, but he deliberately puts himself beyond the reach of them, or of any kind of life. He wants to be tortured, and sees himself as wanting and deserving death. I'm not sure exactly what happens to Frank at the end, although he may be about to be executed. Somehow Frank had defined love and fatherly affection as weakness, or perhaps as experiences shut off to him by the very fact that he is the young man he is. Puzzling, noir, mysterious. And a powerful existential novel.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"He wanted it. He had been afraid of it, but he wanted it." March 25 2005
By Steven Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eighteen-year-old Frank Friedermaier lives in an occupied, wartime city. But he lives in relative luxury with his mother, who operates a clandestine brothel from their top-floor apartment, while the neighbours suffer through the winter with tiny lumps of coal and watery soups. Since he was a child - when he was temporarily shipped off to rural foster parents - Frank has wrestled with the problem of powerlessness in the face of destiny. Confronted with fate, one might either deny it or embrace it. But Frank chooses to taunt it by running huge risks and daring the world to snap back at him. In this way he makes himself feel powerful. The occupied city gives him every opportunity for such a game, letting him follow abjection wherever it leads: murder, petty theft, procuring young girls for his mother's business, and subjecting the one girl who loves him to a quite depraved betrayal. It can only be a matter of time before destiny bites back... Simenon's project here seems to be the exploration of a particular type of personality. He has been praised for getting the sense of occupied France "just right", but it could just as easily be American-occupied Germany, or any situation in which an individual feels oppressed by social convention. The story is a simple one, but the real interest here is Frank's character. The more we observe him, the more we see that there is something driving him other than the apparent urge for annihilation. In the final pages, we see that his violent immoral quest has been, ironically, as much about striving for connection as self-destruction: he is reaching out for a father in Holst, a lover in Sissy and, in "the woman at the window", a vision of domestic bliss.
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Catching It Where The Chicken Catches The Axe May 17 2005
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Portrait of a monster as a young man Aug. 23 2008
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although the setting and the authorities are never identified, Frank Friedmaier and his mother operate a brothel from their apartment in a city resembling Nazi-occupied Brussels. He is a nobody, but his mother's business gives him certain privileges--food, fuel, freedom--denied to other natives of the city. Aimless, amoral, aloof, Frank embarks on an utterly senseless, sadistic crime spree. Not only is this a masterful account of life during the Occupation, it's the bleakest, most cynical example of noir you'll probably ever encounter.

Evildoers in noir novels usually have, if not a motive (money, jealousy, revenge), then at least an underlying, explicable psychological condition--something that makes them, if not likable at least empathetic. "Dirty Snow," however, is almost excruciating to read; at no point will readers find they are rooting for this squalid punk. (Nor, for that matter, are we pulling for the authorities.) Unlike such superficially winsome characters as Tom Ripley or Lou Ford ("The Killer Inside Me"), Frank commits his vile crimes for no apparent reason, except perhaps, as William Vollmann writes in a brilliant afterword, "to be recognized. He wants to be known."

Certainly his lack of a father explains Frank's obsession with his neighbor Holst, whose daughter is one of his victims. ("It would have made him so happy--it would have relieved him of such a burden--to say, "Father!") But, above all, Frank wants to be in control, in this city filled with "more and more people with eyes that were dead." Even in prison, he struggles to be the master of his jailers' capricious routines and of every dreary moment of each passing day; he clings to the vision of a woman framed by an apartment window and imagines her living in a blissful poverty with her husband, "with their child in its cradle, their bed that smelled of them." The struggle to be someone, to have a life worth noticing is the closest thing to a motive Simenon offers.

"Dirty Snow" is often compared to Camus's "The Stranger" for the utter bleakness of its atmosphere and the irrationality of Frank's behavior and to the novels of Jim Thompson or Dostoevsky for its exploration of the criminal mind. But in some ways it reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's fiction--not for any kind of off-key humor, which is virtually nonexistent in Simenon's novel, but because, by the novel's end, his antihero realizes a warped sense of redemption. Perhaps that's what he wanted all along.

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