x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Philippe Claudel novel intriguing, but sometimes too surreal

In Philippe Claudel's The Investigation, a man is tasked with leading an inquiry into a spate of suicides at a mega-corporation that dominates an unnamed town.

The Investigation
Philippe Claudel
MacLehose Press

The French author Philippe Claudel's newly translated novel is a dark fable that is as entertaining as it is disturbing.

It concerns a nondescript man, known only as "the investigator", who is tasked with leading an inquiry into a spate of suicides at The Firm, a mega-corporation that dominates an unnamed town.

He arrives here, then steps out of the station to be greeted by a deserted taxi rank. Not only this, it's getting late at night and heavy snow is beginning to fall.

And so begins a string of misfortunes for the hapless protagonist, as he finds his mission being stymied at every turn by bizarre events, uncooperative townsfolk and stifling officialdom.

While this Kafkaesque scenario is highly intriguing, if one is to criticise, perhaps the last third of the book becomes too surreal, as - without wanting to reveal too much - the investigator grasps that he may just be a figment of his own imagination. But overall this is a fine work that manages to showcase the author's inventiveness, while also posing some meaningful questions about the human condition and the frameworks of our reality.

* Hugo Berger