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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Tropic Moon

Georges Simenon

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To purchase Tropic Moon

Title: Tropic Moon
Author: Georges Simenon
Genre: Novel
Written: 1933 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Tropic Moon - US
Tropic Moon - UK
Le coup de lune - Canada
Tropic Moon - India
Le coup de lune - France
Tropenkoller - Deutschland
Colpo di luna - Italia
El efecto de la luna - España
  • French title: Le coup de lune
  • Translated by Marc Romano
  • With an Introduction by Norman Rush
  • Previously translated by Stuart Gilbert (1942)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : atmospheric, feverish tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 13/9/2009 Alice Fisher
New Statesman . 30/1/2006 Jason Cowley
The NY Rev. of Books . 11/8/2005 Norman Rush
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 10/1/1943 L.M.Field
The Spectator* . 24/4/1942 John Fairfield
Sunday Times* . 29/3/1942 Ralph Straus
TLS* . 11/4/1942 M.Willson Disher
TLS . 11/12/2009 Christopher Butler
Wall St. Journal . 2/10/2010 Geoffrey O'Brien

(* refers to review of an earlier translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "The set-up is typical pulp fiction, but Tropic Moon's scathing depiction of French colonial rule in Africa is transcendent. (...) Simenon's writing is extraordinary: the simple, precise descriptions bring Libreville to horrible life and the prose's pace mimics Timar's transition from torpor to paranoia." - Alice Fisher, The Guardian

  • "Tropic Moon is a more subtle book, in many ways, than Heart of Darkness, though just as despairing. Its subtlety lies in what happens to Timar late in the book" - Jason Cowley, New Statesman

  • "An abundant silliness bubbles up through the stories, infecting the careful and circumstantial detail with an air of wanton prankishness that sets the reader's mind on irrelevant considerations." - John Fairfield, The Spectator

  • "(U)nusually good; by no means a polite story, but one that not only rings true but is also most admirably told." - Ralph Straus, Sunday Times

  • "The happenings are not so important. It is the sense, sometimes the overpowering sense, of being there that matters." - M.Willson Disher, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(A) devastating sketch of French Equatorial decadence, stripped of exoticism, punctuated by adultery and murder, and palpably suffused with boredom, petty resentment and moral squalor. In place of Conradian prose poetry he gives us flat photographic rendition of a place in which no one can feel altogether at ease. (...) This was the book that signaled most clearly Simenon's ambition to go beyond his Inspector Maigret novels into the pitiless world of what he called his romans durs, or hard novels." - Geoffrey O'Brien, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tropic Moon is an early novel by Georges Simenon, and apparently the first set outside Europe, inspired in part by Simenon's travels to the French African colonies in 1932. The focus is on Joseph Timar, a young man from an apparently fairly well-to-do, and well-connected family from the provinces who, back home in France, "had been taken with everything that was colonial". An uncle sets him up with a position with a French company, SACOVA, in Gabon and Timar is told:

he'd be living in the middle of the jungle, somewhere not far from Libreville, logging timber and selling cheap goods to the natives.
       There's not much to Libreville itself, an underdeveloped colonial backwater (indeed, the cover-picture of the NYRB edition is entirely misleading, showing a much more advanced city than where Timar finds himself). There's even less to Timar's job: the local SACOVA director says he has no use for him, while the outpost he's supposed to take over is unreachable for now (the necessary boat is in the shop) and, in any case, "the post was occupied by a crazy old man who'd promised to shoot the first replacement sent his way".
       So Timar settles in in Libreville for the time being, at the local hotel that is the center of much of the social scene among the colonials: "All the bachelors of Libreville took their meals there". The hotel is run by a couple, Eugène and Adèle, and in short order Timar sleeps with Adèle (as, apparently, everyone has) and in one night there are two deaths: Eugène succumbs to an illness he's long been suffering from, and a local, Thomas, is found murdered a few hundred yards from the hotel.
       Timar was in over his head the moment he left France, but he quickly gets in deeper. His passion for Adèle, coupled with the inconvenient fact that she is pretty obviously behind the murder of the local, complicate matters -- as do his flailing ambitions.
       The place might not look it, but fortunes are made here: several of the characters Timar spends his time with made their millions and returned to France -- only to burn through the money and return to Gabon. So also Eugène and Adèle -- and it's Adèle who seduces Timar with opportunity: "there's a way to make a million in three years", she promises, with the two of them taking over a concession up-country. It's convenient for her, too, because the murder-case against the local proves a bit problematic and can't be swept entirely under the rug -- "the whites here, we stick together", one of them explains to Timar, but it requires a bit more effort this time around. It's convenient if Adèle isn't right in the center of things -- and even more so if Timar is tucked away out of reach while things are set in order.
       Timar doesn't fit in well with the other Libreville colonials -- dragged along on an early, ugly outing it's clear he's entirely out of his depth and out of place -- but he tries to convince himself he can make a go of it. He clings to Adèle, who certainly knows her way around; he turns more to alcohol, though he can't quite handle it. And for a while he's in a fevered daze -- which he recovers from better medically than mentally, as he can't quite get a grip and eventually does something rather desperate and foolish, a trip not into the interior but back to what passes here for civilization -- indeed to nothing less than a pretend-show of law and order: "Think how your turning up is going to make a mess of everything !" he is warned, but no avail.
       Timar can't adapt -- in large part because he can't abandon his humanity, as all the other colonials have. He tries to play along, and treat the locals in the (generally horrific) way his compatriots do, for example, but he remains always out of place and the odd man out. His passion for Adèle is blinding, but she's too much for him to handle, too.
       Tropic Moon is a stark indictment of colonial rule and ways, searing (everything is heat) and raw. The depiction of the blacks is certainly discomfiting for contemporary readers, yet seems appropriate given the vantage point of Timar and the colonials, for whom they are, at best, servants. Simenon almost comically depicts the difference, as if white and black were different species, each equally mystified by the other's strange ways.
       There are some nice observations of the place and conditions, from the attempts of the colonials to stick to their familiar food-diets -- an inordinate amount of pâté is consumed (the spam of the French colonies ?) -- to Timar's rest- and root-lessness, as when:
     He wasn't up to reading the novels. In Europe, he'd have devoured them. Here, he had to wonder why people bothered to print so many words.
       There's murder here, but this isn't a mystery; the crime(s) here go far beyond simple murder and Simenon can only approach them in a feverish blur. Timar remains uncomprehending about so much, but the ugly truths shimmer everywhere in this tropical heat. In a way, Simenon merely uses extreme conditions to present an even more warped dark view of humanity than is usual for him, but this also makes Tropic Moon a striking condemnation of colonialism, where such things are still possible.
       An impressively atmospheric but disturbing tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 June 2016

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Tropic Moon: Reviews (* refers to review of an earlier translation): Georges Simenon: Other books by Georges Simenon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-1989) wrote hundreds of books, and is especially famous for his detective-fiction.

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