"I write novels like a filmmaker, but I write films like a novelist," Philippe Claudel said when "I've Loved You So Long," his first work as director, appeared last year. The comment couldn't have meant much to American audiences. To us, that powerful and eloquent movie, with Kristin Scott Thomas as a doctor just released from prison, seemed to come out of nowhere. Although Claudel had long been respected as a novelist in France, only two of his previous books, By a Slow River and Grey Souls, had been translated into English. Now his latest novel, Brodeck, arrives like a fresh, why-haven't-we-known-him discovery, revealing him to be as dazzling on the page as he is on the screen.
The New York Times
Coming across as the love child of Bela Tarr's film Werckmeister Harmóniák and Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," this disconcerting and darkly atmospheric novel, set in an unnamed European town secluded high in the mountains, deals with the effects of collective guilt by examining the dark secrets of its residents as they recall the hardships of war and occupation. Following the end of an unspecified war that sounds very much like WWII, protagonist Brodeck, who survived the camps by literally becoming a guard's pet (Brodeck the Dog), is reunited with his wife and daughter. After the murder of a mystical drifter, Brodeck is made to write a narrative of the events for the authorities absolving the village's inhabitants of any blame. Though there are no innocents, by the end some characters make tentative footsteps toward reclaiming their humanity. Claudel's style is very visual and evocative (he also wrote and directed the film I've Loved You So Long), and this novel, like the brothers Grimm fables, is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The pettiness and sometimes horror of small-town life are chillingly evoked in this highly imaginative tale, which reads like a cross between a Holocaust memoir (which it is not) and a fable. Brodeck inhabits a remote, imaginary village in central Europe after an unnamed war. One day a stranger, the Anderer, arrives and attracts much attention and, eventually, suspicion. We learn early on that fearful townsmen have murdered him, and Brodeck is ordered by the mayor to write a "report" that exonerates the villagers for their misdeed, in which Brodeck had no part. Brodeck's ruminations, in part on his earlier incarceration in a death camp, are the thread that ties the tale together. After struggling with the report, he ultimately submits a parallel account of his version of the truth. VERDICT The multi-award-winning Claudel (By a Slow River; writer and director, I've Loved You So Long) offers up an engrossing tale of collective guilt and redemption, smoothly translated by Cullen, that should appeal to those concerned with issues of good and evil.—Edward Cone, New York
Man's distrust of strangers, and the primal violence it may engender, is the theme of this fable from French novelist Claudel (By a Slow River, 2006, etc.), which won the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens in 2007. Much of the action occurs in an isolated mountain village in the European heartland. The time is a convincing fusion of modern and medieval; while there are parallels to Nazi Germany, the peasant villagers belong in a Breughel painting. The eponymous narrator was not born in the village (a key point), but was brought there as a four-year-old war orphan by kindly old Fedorine. Brodeck thrives after that and goes to university in the distant capital, where he meets his true love, Amelia. When the city is torn by anti-foreigner riots, they flee to the village, which Brodeck believes is a safe haven. That's an illusion. The army occupies the village; Brodeck's non-native origins are revealed; and he is sent to a death camp with other "foreigners." Against the odds, however, he survives and returns home. One day, a strangely dressed fellow arrives with horse and donkey. He is benevolence itself, but the ultimate outsider; Brodeck calls him De Anderer (The Other). The villagers' welcome turns to suspicion when De Anderer refuses to reveal his past; tension mounts, and he is murdered at the inn. Some 40 men participate, but not Brodeck. Claudel constantly shuffles the chronological order and passes up opportunities for suspense as he presses his inquiry into the nature of evil. His insights are not especially original: We are all implicated in wrongdoing, even the gentle Brodeck; remembering atrocities threatens the powers-that-be. Claudel wisely withholds the exact circumstances of DeAnderer's murder. Less is more, just as the quiet moments affirming the purity of Brodeck's love for Amelia, their child and Fedorine are more resonant than the luridly detailed horrors of the death camp. Consistently involving but ultimately unsatisfying.
"Arrives like a fresh, why-haven't-we-known-him discovery, revealing Philippe Claudel to be as dazzling on the page as he is on the screen."The New York Times
“Extraordinary. . . . [A] modern masterpiece.”—The Independent, London
"A haunting, intensely claustrophobic allegory about intolerance, trauma and guilt."San Francisco Chronicle
“A layered recollection of wartime crimes, atrocities, cowardice, and betrayal.”—The Boston Globe
“Claudel’s insightful prose, translated gracefully by John Cullen, renders the tale both literary and deeply philosophical.”—Washington City Paper
"This is a remarkable novel, all the more so because this account of man's inhumanity to man, of coarse and brutal stupidity, of fear and surrender to evil, is nevertheless not without hope. Brodeck survives because, despite all he has experienced, he remains capable of love. It is also beautifully written."—The Scotsman
“This novel, like the brothers Grimm fables, is full of terror, horror, and beauty and wonder.”—Publishers Weekly
"Philippe Claudel is at the peak of his art as a storyteller and portrait-painter."
"It is a relentless, uncomfortable book that achieves a beauty of its own through Claudel's deft writing and passionate commitment to truth.”—The Times, London