by Philippe Claudel
Translation by John Cullen.
This sinister novel begins with the sentence: My name is Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.
Brodeck is one of the few literate people in an isolated village on the borders of France and Germany in the austere period following the end of World War II. His reports are usually mildly diverting lists of the indigenous flora and fauna, commissioned by local government officials. Then, one day, he is asked to write a very different report: how a stranger was brutally murdered by the men of the village.
Brodeck recounts how one gentle spring day the Anderer – the outsider, as they call him - rides into the village, a rotund man in dandyish old-fashioned clothes wearing a hat like a melon, and takes up residence at the inn. Despite his mild-mannered ways and inoffensive behaviour, the local people become increasingly suspicious, especially when his sketches of them seem to be disturbingly perceptive. As the strange tale unfolds, Brodeck weaves in his own terrible past and the dark recent history of the village comes to light. It gradually becomes apparent that these benighted people are motivated by nothing so much as fear and guilt.
The author, Philippe Claudel, is a well-known novelist in his native France, but is better known here for his 2008 film, I’ve Loved You So Long. In this book, he has brilliantly reproduced the voice of a clever but semi-educated man. With his simple but effective prose, Brodeck captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of the village and vividly portrays the sinister folk who inhabit it.
This is an extraordinarily powerful novel: deep and dark, with the timeless quality of a fable, yet tense, subtly layered and haunting. It was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2010.