Just over a week ago the Not The TV Book Group (or NTTVBG) had our very first book discussion on Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel over at Dovegreyreader. The discussion was wonderful with people popping back and forth and who can say no to a book group where you can vanish briefly to watch Dancing on Ice/Come Dine With Me/The Rugby and then pop back, catch up and continue? I will pop the link for the discussion below first though here are my thoughts (you will probably see we all do this about a week after the NTTVBG on our own blogs if we weren’t hosting) on the very first NTTVBG book…
Brodeck’s Report is pretty much two stories within one narrative. Brodeck lives in a French village, possibly not too far away from German borders, where he collects data about the natural environment and writes reports for the government. However soon he is asked by the men of the town to write a very different report. One day the Anderer or ‘The Other’, a stranger, arrives into the town tensions rise and the locals decided he should never leave the town again and so Brodeck is given the task of and chronicling the change in the village since the Anderer arrived leading up to his murder by the locals, something they believe they had to do, but Brodeck isn’t so sure.
“Night has the curious power of changing most everyday things, the simplest faces. And sometimes it does not so much change them as reveal them, as if bringing out the true natures of landscapes and people by shrouding them in black. The reader may shrug off everything I am saying here. He may think I am describing childish fears , or embellishing a novel. But before judging and condemning, one must imagine the scene: that man, come from nowhere – for he really did arrive out of the blue, as Vurtenhau said (now and again Vurtenhau enunciates a few truths amid a great mass of idiocy) – as I was saying, one has to imagine that fellow, dressed like a character from another century, with his unusual beasts and his imposing baggage, entering our village which no stranger had entered for years, and more over arriving just like that, without any ado, with the greatest of ease. Who would not have been a little afraid?”
As Brodeck types his reports a second narrative of his life starts to tumble in between the tale of the stranger’s arrival in the village. It is the tale of Brodeck himself, of how he came to the village, of his time in a camp during an unnamed war and of people coming to terms with the affect effects of war and the legacy it leaves behind. In fact the more that Brodeck types the more he comes to almost empathise with the Anderer and question the locals, something which it would be very unwise to do as one of the villagers hints when discussing his pigs (this scene really, really unnerved me)…
“They’re capable of eating their own brothers, their own flesh. It wouldn’t bother them at all – to them, it’s all the same. They chew it up, they swallow it down, they shit it out, and then they start all over again, ad infinitum. They’re never sated. And to them everything tastes good. Because they eat everything, Brodeck, without question. Everything. Do you understand whatI am telling you? They leave nothing behind, no trace, no proof. Nothing. And they don’t think, Brodeck, not them. They know nothing of remorse. They live. The past is unknown to them. They’ve got the right idea, don’t you think?”
I think many people once they see ‘murder’ in a blurb think that the book is instantly a crime novel it’s not the case with this book. I found it more of a dark and slightly sinister fairytale/fable if it had to be categorised. I thought Claudel’ writing was wonderful; it’s very, very atmospheric and at times can be most chilling. I did have a small issue with the typeface but that’s nothing to do with the author.
I found the fact Claudel never gives you a time when this book is set is clever though initially I was a little wary of it, ok so with a typewriter you can guess somewhat, but which war could it be? This is in a way a masterstroke because it shows the effects of war and that suspicion and the human condition are timeless. Claudel also makes the reader jump from the present to the distant past or recent past in a skip and a hop sometimes from paragraph to paragraph, I liked this it kept me on my toes. It’s by no means an easy read and you the reader are asked to do quite a lot of work, but sometimes with a book like this it’s definitely worth it.
If you haven’t read the book then I would urge you to give this a try (I think most libraries have it) oh, and in the USA its simply titled Brodeck, I keep forgetting that. If you have read it you can always pop to last week’s discussion and add your thoughts there. Don’t forget that this Sunday will see me hosting the second NTTVBG book ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw here, and if the number of visitors we had last time is anything to go buy I better get started on the making of snacks already… and borrowing lots of chairs from the neighbours, I really hope to see you there!