Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Review of Brodeck’s Report by Phillipe Claudel (Quercus 2009, French 2007)
The inhabitants of a village, largely cut off from the outside world, are trying to come to terms with the effects of being occupied during a recent war. In order to survive the wrath of the soldiers they had colluded and collaborated to various degrees, sacrificing those that had previously been their own. Threatening the fragile peace and memories is the arrival of the ‘Anderer’ – the other – an enigmatic, wealthy traveller who rents a room in the local inn and wanders the countryside, forever jotting in a notebook. At the height of a heat wave, tensions stretch to breaking point, and the community rounds on the Anderer, murdering him. Brodeck, himself something of an outsider, is charged with writing the villagers account of what happened. As a youth, the village had saved funds to send him to university, but his studies had been cut short by the war. Having returned home, the occupying soldiers had then sent him to a camp where he survived by any means possible, determined to see his wife once again. On making his way home at the war’s end he’d discovered a broken woman, now with a small child, and a village on edge. As he researches and writes the Report, ever mindful of the pressures and responsibilities of the task, he reflects on the complex contingencies of his own life, and the nature family, home and belonging; the rationalities of individual and collective loss, guilt, memory, identity, and difference; the struggle for survival and living with the consequences of succeeding.
Brodeck’s Report is an extended, multilayered parable which weaves a philosophically and emotionally rich tapestry. Beautifully crafted and plotted by Claudel, the story engages the reader to reflect on the questions that Brodeck seeks to answer; the kinds of moral ambiguities concerning our sense of belonging, community and interpersonal relations, and the consequences of actions that plague our everyday lives. The characterisation is keenly observed and the plotting is superb, revealing the complex interweaving of Brodeck’s and villagers lives, his and their dark secrets, and how they seek to continue on living together with a vague and uneasy sense of normality. I found it somewhat of a curious book in that it seemed whole regardless of where I stopped a reading session; I had the sense that I could finish at that point and remain fully satisfied with the story even if I never got to finish the book. I’m not sure I’ve come across that before. A quote on the front of the book states ‘deeply wise and classically beautiful … a modern masterpiece’, and a masterpiece it most definitely is. Brodeck’s Report is cerebral read that will leave you asking questions and reflecting on them long after the final page is read. Heartily recommended.