Friday, January 17, 2014

The Investigation by Philippe Claudel

I've long been a fan of Claudel and loved his Grey Souls trilogy, particularly Brodeck's Report but this novel, his latest, published in 2010 but only translated last year, is something quite different.   Toby Litt from the Guardian panned it totally calling it a 'banal and rubbishy novel' while David Annand from the Telegraph called it 'impressive' and 'a complex novel of ideas'.   I go with the latter.   Though it undoubtedly draws on Kafka's The Castle, there are also many nods to Borges and his fantastical stories [one collection of which is called oddly Brodie's Report].

Towards the end of the novel, the narrator called only the Investigator, says 'I'm not measuring up to my own life' and ultimately that is what the novel is all about, acquiring a knowledge of himself, a self-awareness and confronting it.   Along the way, he paints a dystopian picture of modern society and its control by neoliberalism in a rather surreal allegorical way.

The novel opens with the Investigator arriving in an unnamed town, his mission being to investigate the high number of suicides occurring in a large corporation called simply The Firm.   Very quickly he learns that this is a town out of kilter and there is no reality.   Not being able to gain access to The Firm, he finds a hotel, Hotel Hope, after what he thinks is at most an hour but turns out to be at least six - even time has its own existence.   The Hotel is manned by The Giantess and changes its appearance daily while the local cop, The Policeman, has his office there in a broom cupboard.  After a series of nightmarish events, he finally gets to The Firm and then his problems really begin.  He finds himself forced to re-examine his values and his own identity surrounded as he is by bewildering inhabitants and even more bewildering events.   Finally, malfunction becomes his esssence.

Claudel doesn't hide his despair at today's society in any subtle way.   One character complains that the little people like the Investigator no longer have kings, that 'monarchs today ... are complex financial mechanisms, algorithms... their thrones are screens, fibre-optic cables, printed circuit boards'.   Another character complains about his job which is to clean up 'valleys weighed down with the corpses of mobile telephones, computers, silicon, lakes filled to the brim with fluorocarbon, toxic mud and acid mud, geological faults plugged up with large shovelfuls of radioactive material...' and all he's got to do the job is a broom.   The excess of conformity demanded exhausts him and he remarks that 'man created order while no-one was asking him for anything.   He thought he was being smart.  It was a bad move'!

Finally, the Investigator is told 'man is a negligible quantity nowadays, a minor species with a special talent for disaster'.   What more can I say?  Read it!

The Investigation is published by Maclehose Press, pb, £7.99, available from, €7.07

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