Penguin Press celebrates 75th Maigret novel translation and reveals cover

Penguin Press celebrates 75th Maigret novel translation and reveals cover

Penguin Press is preparing to conclude a long-term publishing project to re-translate all 75 novels in Belgian-French writer Georges Simenon’s Maigret series after committing to publish a book a month six years ago, and has revealed the cover for the final book. 

Since 2013, 10 translators have worked on the translations of the classic series of novels about ingenious Paris detective Jules Maigret: David Bellos, the late Anthea Bell, Linda Coverdale, David Coward, Howard Curtis, Will Hobson, Sian Reynolds, Ros Schwartz, David Watson and Shaun Whiteside.

While between them ensuring consistency of approach, the series' distinctive look was achieved through Penguin Press's loyalty to a single photographer for its choice of covers: Magnum photographer Harry Gruyaert. Images from the 75-year-old's archive were used for every book jacket in the series and for its close he shot a fresh image mirroring the jacket of the very first book in the collection. 

Signing off with a flourish, the cover unveiled for the final 75th book, Maigret and Monsieur Charles, due out in January 2020, shows the inspector figure turning away on the Quai Des Orfevres, where Maigret was famously stationed, capturing the end of series. It also offers a subtle nod to the very first book jacket in the collection, Pietr the Latvian, featuring a similar figure.

Series editor of the collection Josephine Greywoode, editorial director at Penguin Press, said re-translating all 75 books had been both a labour of love and a profitable initiative.

In total, according to PRH UK, global sales of the new translations reached a landmark one million copies. Through Nielsen BookScan, Simenon sold 433,157 books for £3.13m. The first in the Maigret collection, Pietr the Latvian, released in November 2013, shifted a respectable 19,041 copies. 

"It's been really very successful for us," said Greywoode. "It was our ambition to try and recreate the cultural space here for this author and his series that it has in say France or in Italy. And in that way we have been so encouraged by the support we've had from literary fans like John Banville and Julian Barnes and from the media. But also from the fans who have pre-ordered every single book and has really bought into the series in a wholehearted way. For us it is wonderful we have been able to get to 75 because we have had that support from consumers for this work."

ITV's Maigret series starring Rowan Atkinson as the pipe-smoking French police detective contributed in terms of the cultural status that has built since Penguin Press set out on the project. But, according to Greywoode, another "real engine" for fuelling word of mouth over the last six years has also included the hosting of 15 special dinners by Penguin, largely in London, for Simenon's greatest fans. In attendance of these dinners were well known literary fans such as John Banville, as well as Simenon's son, John Simenon, who has been able to act as a living champion for his father's work and legacy. Georges Simenon died in 1989.

The final, 75th book will be celebrated with a "Club Simenon", as the dinners have been dubbed, with further plans afoot for retailer and consumer competitions to mark the major milestone.

Although the Maigret project is winding up, Greywoode indicated the press's enthusiasm for the "famously prolific" writer, who wrote in the region of 200 novels, will continue well into the future – with more publishing on the way.

"Simenon was famously prolific so there is plenty more for us to delve into," said Greywoode. "We would like to really establish this series now we've reached the end to ensure it has a long life. But, yes, then we will be publishing more of the novels Simenon wrote outside of the series of which there are around 200. We'll be looking to curate a selection of those to bring to readers hungry for more!"