Claudel, Philippe - 'Brodeck's Report' (translated by John Cullen)
Brodeck lives in an isolated village in the border area between two unspecified countries. The village is assumed to be somewhere in Alsace Lorraine and the story to be set after the Second World War but this is never actually confirmed in the book.
Brodeck has had some education at a university and writes reports on the natural environment submitting them to a distant administration. He is asked by the Mayor to write a report about the events surrounding the death of the "Anderer"- the other one. As Brodeck writes this report it becomes a melancholy history of his life and of his time during the war when he was taken to a camp along with other "fremder" - foreigners - and was not expected to return. In the camp he sees terrible events and he meets "Die Zeilenesseniss " - the woman who eats souls - but surprisingly he survives because his love for his beloved Emelia keeps him alive despite the horrific conditions.
As Brodeck continues to compile his report it becomes also the terrible story of that village and its relationship with the stranger, the foreigner, the unknown.
The author Philippe Claudel is Professor of Literature at the University of Nancy, a novelist and screenwriter whose novels have won many prizes, with BRODECK'S REPORT winning the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens in 2007, and GREY SOULS winning the Martin Beck Award in 2006. In 2008 he directed and wrote the film I've Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas.
I was a little frightened to begin reading this book because one blurb from Francois Vey in Parisien called it "literature of the highest quality". I sometimes find modern books that are claimed to be "literature" can be pretentious, but not this one; BRODECK'S REPORT is a quite stunning reading experience.
From the first enigmatic line "My name is Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it" you are drawn into a beautifully written story. The different layers of the story are revealed slowly like the peeling of an onion and the full horrors of what has happened to Brodeck and his village are discovered. There is the mystery of the identity of the Anderer and why has he come on horseback with his strange clothes and black notebook to stay in that village in a room above the inn. Anderer's flamboyance, his eccentricity and eventually his perceptiveness cause suspicion and hostility among the villagers.
This story is told in an almost allegorical fashion with word portraits and parables containing such superb descriptive writing about the countryside and the villagers that it makes the revelations even more distressing. BRODECK'S REPORT is not a cheerful novel but it is a fascinating, imaginative and brilliant book and that it succeeds on so many levels, leaves me breathless with admiration.
Norman Price, England
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