Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

"The Investigation" by Philippe Claudel (Maclehose Press, 2014)

"The investigator" arrives in a town to investigate a spate of suicides. The weather and bureaucracy is against him. He has a breakfast of mild catastrophes. Vending machines misbehave. Officials are alternately officious and confessional. Time plays tricks. He's forgotten his name and others are only known by their titles. Later he meets the Psychologist, the Shadow, and maybe the Founder. He ends up in a place where individuals have been imprisoned in doorless, windowless containers strewn across a plain. He sometimes speculates on his situation -

  • "Then, brutally, a thought came to him - bright, evident, incontrovertible: he was dead. He had died without realising it", p.31
  • "He didn't have the damnedest idea of how to escape from this quite clearly fake universe, a dream universe which wasn't in any way life", p.120
  • "This place isn't a high-end luxury hotel. This is not reality. I'm in a novel, or in a dream, and what's more certainly not in one of my own dreams but in someone else's someone complicated, perverted, who's enjoying himself at my expense", p.157
  • "on this occasion the investigator made no mistake: for a few hours, he was busy dreaming. A true dream", p.174

There's the odd worthwhile passage - the Manager's monologue on p.96 for example, and I like "sometimes thinking is like running a washing-machine on empty: while it is a useful exercise for testing that it works, the dirty linen that has been left outside the machine remains so for ever in spite of everything" (p.168). The rest doesn't appeal to me - slow, unimaginative and predictable. Kafka it ain't.

  • "his gaze hypnotised by the snow, which, beyond the glass, rushed its milky particles in trajectories that were elegant but entirely without logic", p.12
  • "I'm the Policeman, not the Murderer! Each to his role!", p.50

Other reviews

  • Toby Litt (Guardian) (It's kinder to read Philippe Claudel's The Investigation speculatively, as an interesting and timely experiment, than as what it ultimately is, a banal and rubbishy novel)
  • David Annand (Telegraph) (Self-awareness is literature’s ultimate high-wire act. It takes sure-footedness and no little bravery to attempt a novel that can comment on its workings without undermining its magic. ... Philippe Claudel wobbles a couple of times but ultimately navigates the tightrope.)
  • Allan Massie (Scotsman) (though the message is bleak, the novel is written with such relish, inventiveness, imagination and brio, that it is consistently entertaining)

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