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The Investigator is a man quite like any other. He is balding, of medium build, dresses conservatively—in short, he is unremarkable in every way. He has been assigned to conduct an Investigation of a series of suicides (twenty-two in the past eighteen months) that have taken place at the Enterprise, a huge, sprawling complex located in an unnamed Town. The ...
The Investigator is a man quite like any other. He is balding, of medium build, dresses conservatively—in short, he is unremarkable in every way. He has been assigned to conduct an Investigation of a series of suicides (twenty-two in the past eighteen months) that have taken place at the Enterprise, a huge, sprawling complex located in an unnamed Town. The Investigator's train is delayed, and when he finally arrives, there's no one to pick him up at the station. It is alternating rain and snow, it's getting late, and there are no taxis to be seen. Off sets the Investigator, alone, into the night, unsure quite how to proceed.
So begins the Investigator's series of increasingly frustrating attempts to fulfill his task. In the course of hours of wandering looking for the entrance to The Enterprise, he bumps into a stranger hurrying past and spills open his luggage, soaking his clothes. When he finally reaches the Enterprise, he is told he does not posses the proper authorization documents to enter after regular hours. Asking for directions to a hotel, he is informed "We're not the Tourist Office," and must set off to find one himself. Time and time again, regulations hamstring him, street layouts befuddle him, and all the while he senses someone watching him, recording his every movement.
In a highly original work that is both absorbing and fascinating, Claudel undertakes a sweeping critique of the contemporary world through a variety of modes. Like Kafka, Beckett, and Huxley, he has crafted a dark fable that evokes the absurdity and alienation of existence with piercing intelligence and considerable humor.
“A world that is by turns farcical, absurdist, allegorical. . . . Skillfully evokes the insidious, modern fear that we, like the Investigator, are playing bit parts in some vast, incomprehensible system.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Impressive . . . a self-aware book about self-awareness, about the process of becoming a person, the search for self. . . . [Claudel] has managed a rare trick.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)
“Darkly comic, pleasingly strange.” —The Daily Beast
In Franz Kafka's unfinished novel, The Castle, first published in 1926, an anonymous land surveyor arrives in a nameless village below a castle where he is bullied and hindered at every turn by unseen and insane bureaucratic forces that gradually break him. In Philippe Claudel's The Investigation, an anonymous official arrives in an unnamed city dominated by The Enterprise, a corporate fortress. He is there to look into a series of suicides, but he immediately becomes the plaything of an invisible, demented bureaucracy that eventually destroys him. There are more specific nods to Kafka throughout Claudel's novel. The innkeeper, the policeman, the crazy voice on the telephone, the wandering across freezing, maze-like terrain, among other details strongly recall scenes and characters in The Castle, just as Claudel's surreal traffic episode echoes the one in Kafka's novel Amerika: The Man Who Disappeared.
The Investigator himself also seems familiar. "He was a small, slightly round fellow with thinning hair, and nothing about him, neither his clothes nor his expression, was remarkable," Claudel writes. This description, however, conjures up none other than George Smiley. Like Smiley, the Investigator is outwardly dull and self-effacing. "He'd been forgotten," he realizes as he waits to be met, "It wasn't the first time." Later we are told, "Friendship is a rare thing, and the Investigator had never tried it." He is, above all, "a scrupulous, professional, careful, disciplined, and methodical person who didn't allow himself to be surprised?"
Unlike Smiley, the Investigator is plunged into an absurd, malevolent world where his training and diligence are pathetically irrelevant. Here he becomes both suspect and victim. When he is finally admitted to the colossal Enterprise building, for example, he is instructed to follow a green line (headlong into a wall) and is told by the apparently lunatic Security Officer: "Man created order at a time when nothing was required of him. He thought himself clever. He's had cause to regret it." Shortly afterward, he is closeted with the Psychologist and then abandoned in the Waiting Room, a freezing, blinding "world of whiteness" where white magazines with blank pages are provided and where his disintegration accelerates. ("He felt that all the places he'd passed through?no longer existed?and that he was now getting ready to become a person who, quite simply, would soon cease to be a person at all.")
Kafka, Beckett, Huxley, Orwell, Poe: each casts a long shadow over these pages. Yet Claudel, for all his mannered introspection, creates anew a sickeningly tactile world and an atmosphere thick with menace and suspense. A stairway becomes "shaky, rubbery, incomparably treacherous, like a supple, mobile carpet of moss." The Suicides, lined up for inspection, "were all resolutely dead?and yet the eyes of each followed the Investigator as he moved from one to another?" Instead of a plot, there is a descent — from bleak humor, through melancholy and confusion, to final terror and despair — and a stark conclusion. "In our time," the Investigator is told, "man is a negligible quantity, a secondary species with a talent for disaster." Perhaps. But Claudel's frail hero makes his mark, on these bleak pages and on the reader's troubled consciousness.
Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.
Reviewer: Anna Mundow
Posted August 14, 2012
Review based on ARC.
Yup. I really liked this one. So I started reading it, and then kept reading it, and kept reading it, until I was about a third of the way through and realized i was starving. So we went to go eat.
Then I went home and kept reading it.
And here's where it gets trippy. Admittedly, I was exhausted... just... so .... tired. But, see, I kept reading. And I started questioning reality, and my existence, and WHY is that light so bright... and who's keeping my husband away from me? AM I real? What's happening?...
and, normally, I'm not that kind of girl... ;)
Then I was interrupted and was not able to finish until the following evening. Overall, I was very pleased with the book.
And, gosh, what's it about. It is almost an everyman type of story... the characters are identified by their duties. And the Investigator is sent to Investigate an unusual circumstance with the Enterprise. There are, to say the least, obstacles in his efforts to uncover the truth he was sent to investigate. I think I can safely say, just read it. I hate spoilers, especially any hints regarding this kind of book.
But I will say, there are the "surreal" aspects that other mention; it's just that it's more than that. It's an allegory and a warning, and a tale to which many of us can relate. Plus it's creative and thoughtful.
Interestingly, my break in reading the novel occurs around the same time as the Investigator's.... ah, discovery of sorts. The tone seemed to shift. It had a satisfying end. But it just wasn't perfect.
But I Definitely recommend the book.
(four and a half stars)
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