Oct. 1, 2014 by Darius
I recently finished Brodeck by Philippe Claudel. It’s one of the best fiction books I’ve read this year.
Brodeck takes place in a an unnamed small town in what seems to be the Alps. The community is very insular and wary of outsiders, largely due to the fact that it was recently occupied in a war that is clearly evocative of World War II. One day, though, a stranger arrives in the town, who stands out from the townsfolk in every possible way. What happens next triggers an extended reflection, interweaving the past and the present.
Philippe Claudel’s mastery is in his insights into human nature, especially its darker sides. There is plenty of misery and suffering in Brodeck, told in a surprisingly deft and graceful voice, and how different people react to difficult events forms the core of the book. Is the way forward to bury and ultimately forget the past? Is it to confront the past? Is there even a way forward at all?
Finally, Brodeck is rich with imagery. One of my favorite quotes came from near the end of the book: “I thought about History, capitalized, and about my history, our history. Do those who write the first know anything about the second? … Could History be a greater truth made up of millions of individual lies, sewn together like the old quilts Fedorine used to make so she could buy food for us when I was a child? They looked new and splendid with their rainbow of colors, and yet they were sewn together from fabric scraps of differing shapes, uncertain quality, and unknown origins.”
As a contemporary novel, Brodeck doesn’t offer any easy answers or neat endings, but it would appeal to anyone who likes a good book that challenges one to think.