Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel

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Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A slightly convoluted but brilliantly absorbing story of the horrors of World War II and the years afterward in a secluded French village. A great story, finely told.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1906694685

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Brodeck is a part-time writer, in that he gathers local information and nature notes for some agency that might not even care. But events and circumstances are forcing him to spend more time in his shed, fingers working at his broken-down typewriter. His story is one of great innocence amid great horror, but it's not just his own story he is impelled to tell.

Brodeck has entered the village this book is set in, in eastern France, twice – once as a new arrival, an immigrant, and again after being away for some of World War II. Both times he is a surprise to the inhabitants, and his standing in town might reflect that. It is when others in the village collectively respond to another, stranger stranger in a startling way, he is urged to be complicit inasmuch as he must write the report of the book's title.

This book is one of those that cover great themes, with a fine narrative approach to a great story being told with none of the thrusting of said themes down our throats that can be such a turn-off. The innocence of Brodeck is seemingly universal, ranging from his newcomer status as outsider, to ignorant, to compliant sufferer, but at no times does this make him some creation of fable – some personification of innocence. He remains a fully-fledged human, and his reporting, while a little heavy on the simile at times, is only one factor that makes him very personable.

Neither is the hardened horror of the world heavy-handed. I don't want to even suggest the crimes and sins surrounding Brodeck, but this is just post-WWII, it is in German-speaking France, and we quickly learn salient facts about Brodeck, so everything easily becomes clear. What is dripped into our awareness with a fine sense of timing and a well-developed wispy movement throughout different time-zones of the story is not so obvious at the beginning, making this book one where the less we know of it at the start the better.

But what you should know of is the quality of the writing. It verges on the poetic and literary at times, with the construct of Brodeck's personal report as he covers his past, present, and the acts of others, as he flits from story to story, from character to character. It is a brilliant jigsaw puzzle of detail, slowly coming together to create a full picture, all the while never straying from a strong sense of narrative, and never descending to parable.

The style might put a couple of readers off, as different flashbacks and reminiscences are introduced to us with no introduction, but I enjoyed everything here. It never becomes too much to concentrate on the different colours of this story, as Brodeck weaves his autobiography into the very realistic sensibilities of this time and place, which are equally finely portrayed.

This builds in a lovely fashion to its conclusion and makes for a great novel of strong artistry and enjoyable story. It is a lovely blend, and I can only declare it one of the best European novels I have come across in a long while. I can only hope the author gets a great success here – he wins prizes in his native France but has a woeful Wikipedia page, so seems to be someone the English-speaking world has been ignoring for some time. I don't think this will be the case for long.

I must thank Quercus for the Bookbag's review copy. We also have a review of Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel and Euan Cameron.

This deserves to be as big a hit as the very different, but also commendable, The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies. You might also appreciate Good People by Nir Baram. We think you'll also enjoy The Investigation by Philippe Claudel.

Booklists.jpg Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel is in the Top Ten War Novels.

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