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The Man Who Watched Trains Go By

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,964 ratings  ·  219 reviews
Kees Popinga is an average man, a solid citizen who might enjoy a game of chess in the evening. But one night, this model husband and devoted father discovers his boss is bankrupt and that his own carefully tended life is in ruins. Before, he had watched impassively as the trains swept by; now he catches the first one out of town, and soon commits murder before the night ...more
Paperback, 251 pages
Published November 3rd 2016 by Penguin Books (first published 1938)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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Glenn Russell
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books

This captivating page-turner is not a Detective Maigret novel but one Simenon termed roman durs, meaning uncomfortable or hard on the reader. With The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, each chapter begins with a brief epigraph, for example, the epigraph for Chapter 1 reads “In which Julius de Coster the Younger gets drunk at the Little-Saint George, and the impossible suddenly breaches the dykes of everyday life.”

Here's my choice of epigram for the book itself: "The Case of Kees Popinga, or how
Steven Godin
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Cool as a cucumber, Dutchman Kees Popinga wonders around Paris with plenty of cash. Drinking, smoking, playing chess, entertaining women, seemingly without a care in the world, sounds great!. Oh, I forgot to mention the police are on his tail, as he is wanted for being the 'Amsterdam sex maniac', Kess himself sees this tag as a bit of an insult, that makes him mad (which he clearly is) believing he is nothing of the sort. Although he is a killer, you wouldn't think it.
Leaving his family behind
Luís C.
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By

Too long caught up in the daily routine of his life as a Dutch petty bourgeois, the good father of the family Popinga has just been fired free of the job, he intends to take example on his former boss, have a mistress like the beautiful Pamela but he twist the blow like a duck.

Became a fugitive, Popinga jumps on a train ... a very good thriller without his famous Simenon character Maigret. There, point of investigation, it is enough to follow the character who
This was diverting, though not my favorite of the six or so Simenons I have read so far, all on the New York Review Books imprint. Kees Popinga, a buttoned down manager of a ships chandlery in Holland, goes on a bit of a rampage after his boss tells him that he has run the business into the ground. This is the same business, the watchword for rectitude and probity in the little port town in which it operates, into which Kees has invested every cent of his savings. Kees subsequently ...more
Kees Popinga is a chief clerk for a shipping company. Wife and two kids. A heavily-mortgaged home. A solid Dutch burgher. He takes a walk one night and spies his boss drunk in a dive bar. The boss confesses massive fraud and explains that Popinga's cushy life will soon be unraveling.

I've read Simenon before ( Red Lights) and been unimpressed. But this one grabbed me when Popinga returned home from his impromptu meeting with his boss and his wife notices something is wrong with him:

"You're white
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it

Kees Popinga, the main character of The man who watched the trains go by, is an exemplary husband and caring father of two teenage children. When we meet him for the first time he could serve as a shining example of a man. He avoids bars like the plague, he opposes bravely to physical desires and does it so successfully that he never had gone to a public house. He works in the firm of Julius de Coster where he earns quite a good money that allows him to look after his family. Mr Popinga lives
Mar 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews

While discussing Black Swan with friends the other day, I realized this novel has a similarity or two with Darren Aronofsky movies. Remember those movies ( Requiem for a Dream, Pi, The Wrestler, Black Swan ) where we have one or more characters going on with their lives when somehow things begin spiraling out of control. And how!. The Man Who Watched Trains Go By has a similar premise, except the transition in the protagonist's life is relatively more sudden. He steps around a corner from where
Those who leave by night- trains leave for ever
- Kees Popinga from
The Man Who Watched The Trains Go By

Kees Popinga is a dull man who lives in a well-ordered existence, where everything including his wife is admirably above-board, "one might have said of her..that she was the ' best make' of Dutch wife;" his house the "best planned;" his neighborhood in the "healthiest and most attractive part in Groningen." He is Simenon's psychologically marginal archetype - "a middle-aged man, after years
Mar 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: David E.
Shelves: crime-fiction
as to Simenon's writing Method:

"On a large yellow envelope, he would over the course of a week or two, write the names of his characters and whatever else he knew about their lives and backgrounds: their ages, where they had gone to school, their parents' professions. The envelope might additionally contain street maps of the novel's setting, although it would never say a word about the book's eventual plot. Once he was satisfied with these notes, he would enter the hermitage and knock of the
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: to those who want to change their living habits...
Another classic 'human' study by Simenon. The theme has been used before in literature, but I never get tired of it. A person who wants to forget their current life and become another identity or break out of their 'mode' of living. And yeah bad things happen. But what's more important bad things are happening in your old life. The strict order of doing things, working at the same company year after year - well, you are going to break down!

For instance, me trying to write five book reviews a day
Dec 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first Simenon but not, barring unforeseen horrific circumstances, my last.

Here's my problem: as it's a well-known fact that Georges Simenon wrote in excess of 7.6 trillion books during his lifetime, I'm a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out which ones to read. I mean, it's impossible that they're all equally good, right? And since I could read a Simenon book every day for the rest of my life and still barely make a small dent his oeuvre, I'd love to have some guidance on which to try out
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
From the very beginning, Monsieur Simenon gives us all of Popinga’s thoughts, feelings and desires. He paints the world in which he lives in broad strokes, but fills in the minute details – all with even, crisp prose. Throughout the book, we see how the self-enforced delusions that regulated Kees’ life as a stolid, successful citizen morph into those that make him a monster in the eyes of others. Everyone has darkness in their psyche, its just a little darker in our protagonist’s mind. While the ...more
Apr 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: Megha
Shelves: novels
maybe 5 stars. finished this on the train to Bruges, fairly near where some of the action takes place. Beautiful city by the way with the rudest and sarkiest waiters I have ever come across. Dead funnny. Anyway this book is a classic noir fiction (and as this is 1938, one of the first) - it has all the tropes: murderer on the run, prostitutes, playing a game with the inspector, the arrogant protagonist and his increasingly weak grip on reality, seedy motels, escapes from windows, knives ...more
Ben Winch
I didn't see the point of this. The style is dry, sterile, the type of writing that fetishises objects in an attempt to create 'realism'. Nor do any of the characters really seem to interact. And despite the protagonist's moving restlessly across the map it all seemed somehow intrinsically static, as if what movement there was were just currents on the surface and the depths remained still. Well-executed, yes, as far as it went, but to me that didn't seem very far. Anyone who thinks this ...more
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I honestly can't think of anything more entertaining than an ineffectual Dutchman's mental breakdown in 1930's Paris. Simenon always avoids cliche and this felt as much a critique of bourgeois domesticity as a really funny and dark tale of a guy with several issues having an extreme mid-life crisis and being an amateur psycho while feeling really self-important. Plus, if like me you're just happy reading about cafés and bars, cheap hotel rooms and Paris in the rain, this will make you very happy ...more
Meek head clerk Kees Popinga realises at the same time as the police that owner De Koster has stripped his Dutch company clean because of his infatuation with a Parisian girl, Michelle. After a confrontation between the two men, De Koster ends up dead and Popinga makes off to Paris with the remaining money. There he contacts Michelle, with the police in close pursuit.
Andy Weston
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my favourite Simenon novel from the 8 I have managed so far (3 Maigret’s).
The idea of a normal person with a usual middle class life, Mr Average perhaps, married with two children, going off the rails and turning to crime, is a compelling one. This Simenon ‘romans durs’ was written in the 1930s, and explores psychology in the character of Kees Popinga, who is tormented by an inferiority complex, and cravesnotoriety through crimeand playing games with the police, akin to his passion for
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
Over the last few years, I’ve been going through Georges Simenon’s “hard novels” published by the New York Review of Books. They’re generally quick, gritty reads that are slightly ahead of their time.

If Simenon is the Belgian equivalent of Jim Thompson, then The Man Who Watched Trains Go By would be his The Killer Inside Me. Kees Popinga, a respectable Dutch businessman, embarks on an ill-considered crime spree. Like Thompson, Simenon’s reputation casts a long shadow over the work. The
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, france
Thought provoking and nihilistic enough for me.
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What would you do if you lived a quiet, comfortable life and everything was suddenly taken away?

Kees Popinga is a managing clerk for a shipping firm in the small Dutch town of Groningen. He has a wife "Mum" who looks to him for guidance and two children in the best private schools, a maid and a nice home. He is a respected man who loves to play chess at the local club and is quiet good at it. One night while making his rounds and checking on the ships that are loaded with fuel and cargo he finds
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, crime, french
A very elegant portrait of a man jolted out of a conservative petit bourgeois lifestyle into a semi-sane criminal existence on the lam. There were some very good parts in the second half where I was so thoroughly inside the protagonist's head that his actions seemed perfectly sane, while I was at the same time aware that they were anything but. The ending was anticlimactic for someone with crime fiction sensibilities, but perfectly appropriate for the dark literary character study this novel ...more
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Alberto Moravia and Neo-Realists
Outstanding. I was re-directed in the bookstore to "Mystery" to find this. I thought I was getting myself into something campy. But if this is what the whole mystery genre is like (which, I'm sure it isn't), then I'm in. This book is sparse, psychological, short and so fluid. It follows one mans slow self-inflicted breakdown after he learns everything in his life he paraded is gone.
Thomas Strömquist
In Kees Popinga, Simenon created one of these absolutely fascinating characters - the reliable, dependable and invisible member of society - that decides to do something outrageously out of character and who channels doubts, moral questions and frustrations in actions leading to a downward spiral. Unmissable.
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: simenon
1st from simenon for me...the man who watched trains go by...the introduction by luc sante says this is from 1938, simenon's 11th novel that year. sante writes in the introduction, "simenon may be, finally, the most famous unknown writer of the twentieth century."

the chapters seem to have a brief description after a roman number, the 1st includes in which julius de coster the younger gets drunk at the little saint-george, and the impossible suddenly breaches the dykes of everyday life.

Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Best known as the creator of Inspector Maigret (one of the top sleuths in detective fiction), Georges Simenon also authored more than 100 romans durs -- hard or difficult novels -- which he considered his real work. Of the four I've read (hardly a representative sample), I thoroughly enjoyed two -- The Man Who Watched Trains Go By and Red Lights -- while finding the other two wanting -- Dirty Snow and The Strangers in the House. All four are short (150-200 pages), written in simple unadorned ...more
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS GO BY is the chronicle of an honest man's descent into madness.

Kees Popinga is an honest man, married with two children, a nice home he's paying for, the family eats well, good at his job, and one night a week he goes down to his club for a night of chess. He's the general manager of Julius De Koster and Sons and as part of his job, one night he goes down to the docks to check on the ship getting ready to depart. Part of his job involved getting everything to the ship
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit, black-as-night

It's another thoroughly enjoyable look at the dark side of the human psyche from master storyteller Simenon. I was really quite hesitant to try anything other than the entertaining Maigret series but two great roman durs out of two attempts have given me cause to reassess and conclude that I should probably be hesitant to go back to Maigret if anything.

I hope that it is not simply because of the Parisien setting but from the moment Kees decides to board the
Patrick McCoy
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-noir
I first became aware of of Georges Simenon from Akira Kurosawa who said that he intended Stray Dog to be a Simenon mystery and actually wrote the screenplay as a novel at first. Paul Theroux is also a big fan-he mentioned reading Simenon, and enjoying his novels, while traveling in his book Ghost Train To The Eastern Star-also he wrote an article, The Existential Hack for The Times. The narrator of Truman Capote's Breakfast At Tiffany's mentioned in one scene that he had a night cap of bourbon ...more
A blurb on the back cover of the NYRB edition (love this imprint) by John Banville calls this book "existentialism with a backbone of tempered steel." That seems right. Kees Popinga is a prosperous Dutch businessman who keeps his life carefully controlled and limited because somewhere inside he knows that if he steps outside those rigid limits even slightly, he'll never stop. And then one day the boundaries crack a bit, and there's no stopping him. He comes to fancy himself a sort of Nietzschean ...more
Descending Angel
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: simenon
Pretty fun 200 pages. It's always much more interesting following a main character that isn't a "good guy" and one that could be a little bit out of his head or just plays the part of someone thats mad. It kinda set up a situation where the protagonist ~ Kees Popinga was being hunted from all sides, by the police and a gang and then it kinda dropped it and went ".....okay, screw that, wrap up time." which was disappointing, i wanted to see more action, more cat and mouse. Other then that it held ...more
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Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed.

He is best known, however, for his 75
“Si parte da un dettaglio qualsiasi, talvolta di poco conto, e senza volerlo si giunge a scoprire grandi princìpi.” 5 likes
“That feeling about trains, for instance. Of course he had long outgrown the boyish glamour of the steam-engine. Yet there was something that had an appeal for him in trains, especially in night-trains, which always put queer, vaguely improper notions in his head - though he would have been hard put to it to define them. Also he had an impression that those who leave by night-trains leave forever - an impression heightened the previous night by his glimpse of those Italians piled into their carriage like emigrants” 0 likes
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