I don’t remember where I heard about Brodeck by Philippe Claudel. It might have been BookBrowse.com, but could have been Powell’s. I do remember that I was broke and out of books to read, so I hit the library after work (I also remember that it was raining, and I was rushing to get there before they closed, but you probably don’t need to know that, right?). I had the name of the book in my head, and it happened to be on the New Book shelf at the Hillsdale branch, so I brought it home (with several others, I’ve never gotten out of a library with only one item. Ever.). It got great reviews, and when I went looking around the interwebs, I discovered he writes screenplays and directs films as well.
Brodeck was one of those books I really should have written about when it was still fresh in my mind. I’m sure I read this book in 2009, so it’s been several months. I remember it being really good, and melancholy without being sad, exactly. I remember being impressed with his first-person narrative (a difficult style to do well, in my opinion) and how strongly the emotional character of Brodeck was portrayed. But all of the other terribly learned and intelligent things I’m sure I meant to say about it completely escape me at this point. I know that I voted for it as ‘best book of the year’ on some poll, based on the fact that it was the best of the books on the list they had (that I had read).
The story is set in post-WWII Europe (somewhere around the Poland/Germany border, the story is deliberately vague on this point). A stranger comes to town and is so curious and strange and inquisitive and happy, that this beaten-down little hamlet is completely defensive and immediately suspicious of him. They end up killing him out of fear and guilt. It is a great story about how guilt can eat you alive, and how painful it can be to face your own conscience. It’s also a great story about ‘the truth’ and how hard it can be to tell it, or recognize it.
The book is supposed to be a ‘report’ the town leaders have asked Brodeck to write to explain what they did to some nebulous government authority in the distance, in case there are any questions. But of course, writing this is dangerous – look what happened to the last guy! – and so Brodeck ends up writing two versions, one for the town elders and one for himself – and us. The layers of story and viewpoint are impressive and well-executed.
I picked up a film at the video store a few weeks ago (was in the foreign film $1 section, had Kristin Scott Thomas on it) and it was one of his (at this point, having totally forgotten that he did films), so I rented it (I’ve Loved You So Long) and it was great as well. Also sad, about how loss can make you do crazy things, and how love really can heal you, even if it can also destroy you.
So there ya go – a book and a movie recommendation. Next time you’re looking for pathos and enlightenment, Philippe Claudel is your guy. Tell him you heard it here first.
(only one more book on the ugly list – yay!)