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The Investigation by Philippe Claudel – Free extract

The Investigation is the latest novel from the effervescent Philippe Claudel, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Brodeck’s Report. Read a free extract from the start of the novel below (translated excellently by Daniel Hahn), or don’t even bother and buy it at once, from us or from Amazon

The station square was identical to countless station squares, with its distribution of impersonal buildings all pressed against one another. Running along the top of one of them, an advertising billboard bore the photograph, disproportionately enlarged, of an old man who fixed on whoever looked at him, an amused, melancholy gaze. It was impossible to read the slogan that accompanied the photograph – perhaps it did not even have one? – as the top of the billboard was lost in the clouds.

The sky crumbled and fell in a sodden dust that melted on shoulders and seeped right into bodies without being invited. It was not really cold, but the dampness acted like an octopus whose thin tentacles managed to find their way into the tiniest gaps between clothes and skin.

The Investigator was there, quite still, for a quarter of an hour, standing very straight, his suitcase on the ground beside him, as the raindrops and the snowflakes continued to die on his head and his raincoat. He did not move. Not even a little. And for this long moment, he thought of nothing.

No car passed. No pedestrian. They had forgotten him. It was not the first time. Finally he turned up the collar of his raincoat, gripped the handle of his suitcase and decided – before he got utterly soaked – to cross the square and go into a bar that already had its lights on, even though a clock attached to a street lamp a few metres away from him was showing not even four in the afternoon.

The room was strangely deserted and the Barman, who was half-asleep behind the counter, distractedly following the results of the horse racing on a television screen, threw him a somewhat unfriendly glance, then, while the Investigator had already had time to remove his raincoat, to sit down and wait a little, asked him glumly:

“What’ll it be?”

The Investigator was not very thirsty, or very hungry. He just needed somewhere to sit before getting himself where he was meant to be. To sit and run through it all. Prepare what he was going to say. In a sense to make a gradual entry into his character as Investigator.

“A grog,” he said at last.


The InvestigationThe Investigation by Philippe Claudel, translated by Daniel Hahn

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The Investigator is despatched to a provincial town to find out the truth behind a disturbing spate of suicides amongst employees of The Firm. But from the moment he steps off the train, he finds himself in a world that is alien, unrecognisable, and diabolically complex.

From the hostile weather and the fickle hospitality at Hotel Hope to the town’s bewildering inhabitants, everything seems to be against him to the point where he wonders whether he is trapped in a recurring nightmare, or has passed into the realm of death itself.

Cold, hungry and humiliated, and always one step behind, he nevertheless remains determined to find the only man he can hold to account – The Firm’s legendary but elusive founder.

‘Written with such relish, inventiveness, imagination and brio, that it is consistently entertaining’ Allan Massie, Scotsman

‘A complex novel of ideas … [Claudel] has managed a rare trick’ David Annand, Daily Telegraph


Philippe Claudel: First Reviews

It is unfortunate that the cover image to the left cannot begin to do justice to the physical object you will hold in your hand if you purchase or simply thumb in an indulgent bookshop a copy of The Investigation by Philippe Claudel. In real life, it’s very shiny, and while it stops short of reflecting your features or the windows of your soul it should be enough to keep you looking over your shoulder should you read it in the open in magpie country.

Two presumably proud owners of this most iridescent of everyday objects are David Annand and David Mills of the Telegraph and Sunday Times respectively. Because there’s a cracking story inside, too, of course, one that is based on the France Telecom suicides scandal of 2008–9. Mr Annand is the more effusive of the two:

“Claudel achieves something close to the truly Kafkaesque. By which I mean not the lazy shorthand for any encounter with a seemingly irrational bureaucracy, but the deeper, scarier encounters with ourselves, the ones David Foster Wallace described as a process of knocking agonisingly, plaintively on a door our whole lives, only to discover we were inside the whole time . . . In creating a complex novel of ideas without the safety net of an obvious allegorical reading he has managed a rare trick, and for that he should be applauded.”

Mr Mills meanwhile notes that “the twists develop with venomous imagination and the wider themes are elegantly explored” before wondering just how absurd the novel’s world really is:

“Then again, when the starving Investigator finds a vending machine full of delicious sandwiches, which get stuck just as they are about to fall, or when he finds himself at the right desk with the wrong documentation, or when he’s trying to get someone on the phone to listen to him, you think, actually, this is a work of documentary realism.”

Tempted? The Investigation is available in hardback. You can buy it direct on the Quercus website, and soon you’ll be able to do the same from the MacLehose site too.

Live Translation Slam

At 14.00 today, as part of the Norwich Writers’ Centre’s Showcase, translators Daniel Hahn, Frank Wynne and Ros Schwartz will be taking part in a translation slam that can be streamed live from the Writers’ Centre Website.

The event is of particular interest to us because the chosen text is an extract from a novel we will be publishing in January 2013, The Investigation by Philippe Claudel, whose best-known novel, Brodeck’s Report, was the winner of the 2010 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

You can watch the slam unfold by following this link and keep with the chat on Twitter using the hashtag: #LitShowcase12

Monsieur Linh and His Child gets Guardian thumbs-up

The Guardian review Philippe Claudel’s Monsieur Linh and His Child:

This novella, by an award-winning French writer (the author of Brodeck’s Report, winner of last year’s Independent foreign fiction prize) who is also the writer-director of the Bafta‑winning film I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime), would be extremely difficult to make into a film – not only because it features a narrative “trick” that would translate awkwardly to the screen, but also because the author takes pains to avoid pinning down the story to one particular decade or location. The side-effect of this deliberately non‑specific narration is to give the story a hazy, romantic quality, like Vaseline on a camera lens or the sepia tint of an old photo…

It does not matter if you see the final “twist” coming a little sooner than the author may have wished, because the twist is more than a gimmick. It has a symbolic meaning that is integral to the two men’s story: about how the will to keep moving forward is deeply connected with the impulse to love and care for others, and about how that impulse is an end in itself, inherently precious, regardless of whether its object really reciprocates or communicates love in return.

Read the whole review over on the Guardian website.

Return of the Mac (Once Again)

In 2011 MacLehose Press are releasing six titles by authors who are publishing their second novel with us. Translated from French, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch, two have won Independent Foreign Fiction Prizes while all have been extremely well received by reviewers.

In November of last year we previewed the first three: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy, The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barceló and Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel. Now its time to turn attention to the three to be published in the second half of 2011, new novels by Elias Khoury, Evelio Rosero and Otto de Kat, translated by Humphrey Davies, Anne McLean with Anna Milsom, and Ina Rilke, respectively.

Yalo, by the great Lebanese author Elias Khoury, was first published by MacLehose Press in 2009. Earlier this year the translator, Humphrey Davies, won the Banipal Prize for Arabic translation for his rendering of the novel into English. It was the second time that this partnership had won the prize, and who would bet against there being a third success?

“This novel is a tour de force for both author and translator, an ambitious work which deals magnificently with the violence of history and the loss and uses of language, with torture and rape and sexuality. An important and complex book, which brings the history of Lebanon vividly, painfully and colourfully to life.”
Margaret Drabble, Banipal citation

As Though She Were Sleeping, the winner of the first Arabic Novel Prize, is in every respect a worthy follow-up. Focusing on the life of young Lebanese woman who takes refuge from reality in sleeping and dreaming, it is richly and powerfully symbolic of the human cost of the ongoing troubles in the Middle East. Jilted by a suitor, Meela marries a Palestinian man many years her senior and leaves her family to live in a city far from home in a country that is soon to be plunge into chaos by the arrival of Jewish settles and the creation of the state of Israel.

Colombian Evelio Rosero won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – the second of three international literary awards – for The Armies, a beautiful but harrowing novel about a remote rural village destroyed by remorseless violence.  The opening paragraphs offer startlingly lyrical prose, and what follows serves as a faithful and unflinching account of the evils that blight an otherwise forward-looking and creative nation.

Evelio Rosero has dipped his pen in blood and written an epic in 215 pages. If anyone has wondered if there is life in the Colombian novel after magic realism, this is the evidence of the extraordinary power of that country’s literature. Linda Grant, Independent

Good Offices is a mischievous and  surreal satire on the role of the Catholic Church in Colombia. Tancredo is a hunchback in virtual servitude to the parish, who is relentlessly pursued by the sacristan’s goddaughter. His life takes a turn for the bizarre when a stand-in priest is brought in at the last moment, whose mesmerizing sung mass and unquenchable thirst for aguardiente elicits very strange behaviour from the denizens of the church.

Man on the Move is a poetic and heartbreaking tale drawn from the often overlooked Dutch involvement in the Second World War. Rob, the son of a provincial mayor leaves his home country in pursuit of less restricted life and, after a stint in the mines outside Johannesburg, joins up to fight and is subsequently captured by the Japanese.

“This is a novel of extraordinary power and moral beauty, executed with a poet’s intricate artistry. Between its opening and closing departures, we proceed according to some deep psychic logic, ever further into a life not well-lived but, even so, strangely exemplary.” Paul Binding, Independent

Otto de Kat returns to the Second World War period with Julia. His spare, impressionistic prose is the perfect vehicle for conveying the sense of purpose that gripped Hitler’s Germany in the pre-war years. The story is told from the perspective of a naive young Dutchman who falls in love with a brilliant, vivacious engineer. Yet her irrepressible, libertine spirit puts her on a irrevocable collision course with the Nazi authorities, and Chris’ courage, forever undermined by his shaky self-esteem, will be tested to its limits.

You can read an extract from Man on the Move here. And by the way, if you can tell us who it is that adorns the cover of Julia, you will win all three of the new novels profiled here.

Monsieur Linh and his Child by Philippe Claudel

Philippe Claudel, author of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-winning Brodeck’s Report, is back! On March 31 we will be publishing Monsieur Linh and His Child, which joins Brodeck’s Report and the earlier Grey Souls as part of a loose, thematic trilogy about the devastating physical and psychological effects of warfare:

Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety. The other refugees in the detention centre are unsure how to help the old man; his caseworkers are compassionate, but overworked. Monsieur Linh struggles beneath the weight of his sorrow, and becomes increasingly bewildered and isolated in this unfamiliar, fast-moving town. And then he encounters Monsieur Bark. They do not speak each other’s language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner’s need to care for the child. Recently widowed and equally alone, he is eager to talk, and Monsieur Linh knows how to listen. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures.

For an early review of the novel, be sure to check out the excellent BookMonkeyScibbles blog. Or, depending on how strong your French is, the short video clip below may further whet your appetite.

If you haven’t read Brodeck’s Report yet, these reviews will surely send it to the top of your “to read” list:

“Written with an unsettling, painterly beauty, blessed or cursed with all the hallucinogenic clarity of a bad dream that lodges in the cellars of the mind, the novel transforms modern history intoa fable that merges Kafka and the Grimms. This gothic vision of simmering hate and fear … [is] intensely visualized.” Boyd Tonkin, Independent

“Deeply wise and classically beautiful . . .  a genuinely adult fairy tale that forces its reader to bear witness to the extremes of good and evil of which humanity is capable, without ever simplifying either the context or the individual human beings in which both possibilities dwell . . .  A modern masterpiece.” Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph

“In John Cullen’s deft translation, Claudel’s writing is lucid and passionate. One aspect of his literary skill is his assignment of a whole package of experience to a single powerful metaphor … [an] excellent novel.” Giles Foden, Guardian

And what’s more, with the ink on the fully-signed contract now dry, we can let it be known that MacLehose Press will be publishing a further Philippe Claudel novel in the not too distant future. L’Enquête (The Investigation) was recently released in France by Éditions Stock and is a Kafkaesque tale said to be partially inspired by the France Telecom suicides of 2008 and 2009.