Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel, tr. John Cullen

BrodeckThis 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.

InnWhen 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.

BrodeckBrodeck 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.”


23 thoughts on “Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel, tr. John Cullen

  1. Just saving this blogpost and will read it after I read the book. I want to open the book with no idea what it is about! I hope you don’t mind. Wonderful that you are promoting French Lit !


  2. Beautiful review, Claire! I want to read Philippe Claudel’s ‘Grey Souls’ and now after reading your review, I want to read ‘Brodeck’s Report’ also. So wonderful to know that you read it in French. I liked very much what you said about ‘illusory thought’. It made me think a lot. I loved the passage you have quoted from the book about how the night reveals more by shrouding things in darkness. Such a beautiful paradox. Thanks for this beautiful review. I will look for this book.


    • In fact, I read it in English, but his previous book Le Petite Fille de Monsieur Linh, I read in French. One day, when I have much more leisure time I will read more in French, for now, to read is such a reward, I don’t wish to create too many challenges around it – pure pleasure it remains for now. 🙂

      Illusion is an interesting concept, the ideas that develop in the mind, when mixed with fear, ignorance, paranoia, self preservation – well anything becomes possible and it becomes impossible for one voice to stand alone against the crowd, or for common sense to prevail against the common will of a community.

      I hope you find this one to add to your reading list Vishy, I am sure you will appreciate it. I will have to look out for Grey Souls now too.


  3. I read and really enjoyed Grey Souls though it’s a few years since I read it. I will definitely make a note of this. I am also intrigued by your exchange with Nancy about a blank slate. I like that idea so will also have a go at saving a review till after I read the book!


    • Given your recommendation of Primo Levi, I think you will really enjoy this book. And thanks for the recommendation, I’m definitely adding Grey Souls to the list, I might just have to read all of his works, since I have loved everything of his I have read so far!


  4. Thanks for this review. It’s not easy for me to find Philippe Claudel’s books here in Canada. But I’ve seen his film I’ve Loved You So Long, and it remains one of my all time favorites. Have a wonderful New Year, Claire and all the best in 2014!


  5. I’m going to join in the Grey Souls chorus, Claire. I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Claudel’s prose has a quietly elegant quality and, as you say, can be devastating – the translator obviously does a brilliant job. His cinematic skills seem to match his writing style, I think.


    • There’s definitely something appealing about his storytelling that resonates with me Susan and I am happy to have yet another recommendation and to know there are a few other books yet in his list that I might encounter. Yes, the translation was excellent, I am tempted to go back and read it again in French, knowing there are gems to be found in his expression alone.


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