The Investigator, an average man like a million others, finds himself in a dystopian, unnamed city. His mission: to investigate twenty suicides. What he encounters is vastly different than anything he can imagine.
The Investigation: A Novel is a bizarre and oddly entertaining book. The reader is quickly swept into a bleak, confusing experience that mirrors the dark side of our existence. The Investigator’s frustration in his attempts to do his job pours over the pages of the book. Claudel brilliantly reveals the bureaucracy and absurdity of the nightmare The Investigator finds himself in. The writing is full of pessimism and whimsy. The reader can imagine herself in this bleak dilemma and laugh at herself at the same time. Frustrations with erratic vending machines, stuck restroom hand towel rollers and dead cell phones give the farce a humanity we can relate to. Society functions in The Enterprise, but no real interpersonal relationships exist. Anonymity and lack of emotion pervade the society.
The poor Investigator is foiled on every turn. Random bizarre events happen constantly. He checks into a hotel and has his identification papers confiscated. He never can get his clothes dry. A spa-like bathroom pumps only boiling water. He crashes into a wall after following a green “life line.” He is served gourmet breakfast in the midst of massed, hungry Displacees. All the while, he feels he is being watched, but doesn’t know why or by whom.
The author manipulates words with suppleness and simplicity. The book is a fast read. Descriptions are well cast. “It wasn’t really cold, but the humidity acted like an octopus whose slender tentacles managed to find their way into the tiniest open spaces between skin and clothing.”
Born in 1966, Philippe Claudel is a novelist and lecturer at the University of Nancy. His fourteen novels have been translated into various languages. Americans will recognize him from the 2008 film he wrote and directed, I’ve Loved You So Long, starring Kristin Scott Thomas. John Culline translated the highly original The Investigation from the French.
It is hard to distinguish if Claudet is merely playing with our minds or means the book to be allegorical. The reader finds herself doubting her perception of what she is reading around page 180. This may be a purposeful joke on the author’s part. The reader, however, can identify with The Investigator’s attempts to escape the diabolical nightmare his world has become.
The Investigation: A Novel is a highly original book recommended for those who enjoy Kafka, Huxley, dystopia and societal commentary.