This book has been on my radar since I read Le Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh by Philippe Claudel last year. That was the first book I had read by Philippe Claudel and our book club decided we should read it in French. I remember at the time, one of my twitter followers mentioned Brodeck’s Report as being her favourite, and on a recent visit to West End Lane Bookshop in London, I found this copy.
Brodeck’s Report is the story of the young man Brodeck, who as a child arrived in a French village with an old woman who had taken pity on him, finding him sitting alone in the ruins of a house fire.
He becomes a protégé of the village, who save enough to send him to university with the intention of him making an important contribution to village life, as it was clear he had the capability. Their plans are thwarted by unrest in the city and Brodeck flees to the village with a young woman who will become his wife. The village soon becomes occupied, resistance is taught a harsh lesson and the community are encouraged to ‘cleanse the village’. Brodeck and one other who came from elsewhere are sent away.
When the story begins, Brodeck is home, having survived the camp and after stepping out to find butter, stumbles into the midst of a village gathering at the Schloss Inn, where those grouped have decided he will write a report about the unknown, nameless stranger who came to visit, who had now met his end.
The novel is quiet, devastating and yet brilliant. Claudel takes one village which happens to be near the border – and what is a border but an imagined, even a painted line on paper – of an occupying country, and uses the village and its resident to portray humanity and its many inclinations, including its inability to learn from mistakes – which manifest when a stranger rides into town, installs himself at the local inn and goes about his business, without letting anyone know what that is. Many of the events portrayed in the novel are the result of illusory thought, of man’s inclination to create a story when there is none and to punish the outsider, the one who has inspired their dark imagination.
Brodeck is tasked with writing an account of the events that do take place and as he does so, he simultaneously writes another account, his own narrative of what is occurring and what has happened in the recent past. He writes to try to make sense of it, as is his nature and to know what he must do.
Reading Primo Levi adds to an understanding of Claudel’s work and having read this novel so soon after Aminatta Forna’s The Hired Man, it illuminates something more of that work as well, it is as if they write about the same people, only Claudel dares to take the reader deeper into the heart of his villagers forcing us to open our eyes.
“It is a strange time of day. The streets are deserted, the encroaching darkness turns them into cold, grey blurs, and the houses become shifty silhouettes, full of menace and innuendo. Night has the curious power of changing the 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.”