Philippe Claudel – Brodeck’s Report

Posted on | July 29, 2011 | 8 Comments

If there was ever a book that just made you feel slightly uneasy, a tad queasy, very uncomfortable, but still had you hooked, this would be it.

You have Brodeck, who survived being treated like a dog – literally – in a prisoner-of-war camp, in France, during an unnamed war, albeit implicitly it suggests that the war is World War II. He returns to his village, a changed man, and as he goes through the motions of ordinary life, he is still haunted by the past. The growing xenophobia and animosity in the village doesn’t really help either.

We had to go down on all fours, like the dogs, and eat our food without using anything but our mouths, like the dogs.

Most of my fellow prisoners refused to do it. They are dead. As for me, I ate like the dogs, on all fours and using only my mouth. And I am alive.

Sometimes when the guards were drunk or had nothing else to do, they amused themselves by putting a collar and leash on me. I had to crawl around like that on all fours. […] I had to strut and turn round in circles and bark and hang my tongue out and lick their boots.

The book has two parallel narratives (jumping from one to the other): one of Brodeck’s present, and one of his past. In the present-day, Brodeck has been requested by his fellow villagers to write a report on the Ereigniës (i.e. “the thing that happened”) with Anderer, the Other. Anderer was a stranger that arrived in the village, in colourful robes, on a donkey and a horse, with artistic skills. His name remains an unknown, and the initial friendliness of the villagers soon descends to animosity, so much so that he is murdered. The unmentioned refrain is, it had to be done. At the outset of his report, Brodeck states that he had nothing to do with it, and left to him, he’d never speak of it again.

As he recounts the events that transpired since the day the Other arrived in the village, he takes various unpleasant trips down memory lane, remembering the horrors of his past, and the choices he made to survive. Survival of the fittest mutates to survival of the ones willing to do anything to survive, no matter how degrading or self-abasing it is; and the thing – the only thing – that encourages this complete submission from Brodeck is his adoptive mother, and his lover, and to return to them, safe and sound.

“Those were two years of total darkness. I look upon that time as a void in my life – very black and very deep – and therefore I call it the Kazerskwir, the crater. Often, at night, I still venture out on to its rim.”

The writing, the metaphors, the imagery is both, beautiful and poignant. And of course, heartbreaking. The mind boggles, that people can be so cruel, and on reading about some of the events, my stomach churned, and I had to remind myself that this was fiction. To quote Wordsworth, have I not reason to lament what man has made of man?

If you have an interest in WWII literature, I really can’t recommend this book enough. I don’t know if Claudel has written anything else or not, but I would be curious to read some of his other works, to see how they hold in comparison. Any ideas?

This was read for Paris in July, hosted by Karen at BookBath and Tamara at ThymeForTea. It’s not a cheery happy summer book, but it was a fantastic read, and most of the times, that’s all that matters.


8 Responses to “Philippe Claudel – Brodeck’s Report”

  1. Kristen M.
    July 29th, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    This was an amazing book and, just like you say, it wasn’t a comfortable read. Those two rarely go together well and yet Claudel managed it.

    And he does have other books but I haven’t picked one up yet.

  2. Joanna
    July 30th, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

    This sounds sounds so original and intriguing. I’m oddly attracted to disturbing books about WWII – I know I shouldn’t read them as I have nightmares afterwards, but I can’t seem to avoid them.

  3. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    July 30th, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

    I have a copy of this, but I am wary of WWII novels (having read so many). It is good to know that this sounds a bit different and I like the fact that it will make me feel uneasy. I get to it sometime soon.

  4. Mae
    July 31st, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    This sounds fantastic but I suppose one has to be in the ‘mood’ to read it since it sounds quite intense.

    I’m even more interested in this because Claudel also wrote and directed this beautiful and moving French film, ‘I’ve loved you for so long’. This man sounds like a genius.

  5. Sarah
    July 31st, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

    I don’t know what it is about WWII books. Enjoyable certainly isn’t the right word, and yet they continue to demand my attention. This sounds like a book to look out for.

  6. Kari
    August 1st, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    I read this with my book club a few months ago. I found it just so….disturbing. In that “uneasy” sort of way you mention. It wasn’t a cliche WWII concentration camp novel, and I think a big reason was because Claudel never explicitly set this during WWII. Between that and the concept of Brodeck recording this town’s history, it was original and well-written.

    But too depressing for me. While I can appreciate the literary merit, not my cup of tea.

  7. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    August 2nd, 2011 @ 12:20 am

    I don’t think it’s a book I would normally chose. I like uncomfortable, but more a Chuck Palahniuk-uncomfortable, if you know what I mean.

  8. Annabel (gaskella)
    August 3rd, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

    I was intrigued enough by some reviews I saw last year about this book to buy it, but haven’t got around to reading it yet. It certainly sounds dark and disturbing, and I do like to read this sort of thought-provoking novel.

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