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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Investigation

by
Philippe Claudel


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Investigation



Title: The Investigation
Author: Philippe Claudel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 221 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Investigation - US
The Investigation - UK
The Investigation - Canada
L'Enquête - Canada
The Investigation - India
L'Enquête - France
Die Untersuchung - Deutschland
L'inchiesta - Italia
  • French title: L'Enquête
  • Translated by John Cullen

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Our Assessment:

B : odd Kafkaesque tale -- but at least Claudel takes it to its extremes

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 15/1/2011 Caroline Montpetit
The Guardian . 7/2/2013 Toby Litt
Publishers Weekly . 14/5/2012 .
Sunday Times . 6/1/2013 David Mills
The Telegraph . 9/1/2013 David Annand
Wall Street Journal . 14/7/2012 Sam Sacks


  From the Reviews:
  • "En découle un livre étrange, à la fois kafkaïen et camusien, mais on ne peut plus près des interrogations qui secouent la société d'aujourd'hui. (...) En fait, L'Enquête est par-dessus tout un livre superbement mené, sobre et brillant, qui nous accompagne dans les zones intimes de l'être en même temps que dans les hautes sphères de la réflexion." - Caroline Montpetit, Le Devoir

  • "It's kinder to read Philippe Claudel's The Investigation speculatively, as an interesting and timely experiment, than as what it ultimately is, a banal and rubbishy novel." - Toby Litt, The Guardian

  • "There’s no subtlety or ambiguity; nothing is left to the imagination, from the lives of the characters to the ideas Claudel intends to illuminate. Few readers will be able to draw any parallels between the author’s vision and contemporary society." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Claudel doesn’t walk the line with the same grace of Kafka, but 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." - David Annand, The Telegraph

  • "The novel is frequently very funny, but it also skillfully evokes the insidious, modern fear that we, like the Investigator, are playing bit parts in some vast, incomprehensible system." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Investigation is deliberately and expressly 'Kafkaesque'. It features a protagonist who is nameless (he is known only as the Investigator) and also otherwise only vaguely defined and described ("His aspect was as insubstantial as fog, dreams, or an expelled breath") in a nameless locale, dominated by a seemingly omnipresent corporate entity known as the Enterprise. The Investigator comes here on a clearly defined mission, but is thwarted at every turn by a reality that is at odds with all his expectations.
       The Investigator has been sent here to look into an unusually high number of suicides that have apparently been committed at the Enterprise in the past year. But he has great difficulty even just trying to begin his investigation -- indeed, he has difficulties in getting anything accomplished, from finding a hotel room to getting access to the Enterprise. Helping to confound him is the surreal world he finds himself in: a hotel room that is "uselessly large" but only has a bathroom so tiny that he can barely squeeze himself in (and whose faucets only release scalding hot water); a breakfast room packed with hundreds of tourists (in what had been a desolately empty hotel); that Enterprise, that seems to extend throughout the city, yet access to which remains problematic. And things only get odder as he largely haplessly struggles against the forces that seem aligned against him.
       Early on, he's already complaining:

I have the impression that I've been living a sort of nightmare ever since I set foot in this town, or, rather, that I'm the victim of a gigantic hoax. Everything seems arranged to prevent me from doing what I have to do....
       As if the obstructionism, both subtle and overt, that he faces weren't enough, he also finds himself physically run down: for much of the novel he is battered and bruised, starving, tired, feverish, even unconscious. (And, yes, it's never a good sign when an author has to resort to feverish dreams and unconscious protagonists .....) Eventually, he's not even sure in what state he actually finds himself in -- is he dreaming ? He tries to work it out in his mind, but:
     The problem was that the Investigator couldn't perceive any way out. He had no blessed idea about how to escape from the world he was in, even though it was necessarily, indubitably false, totally oneiric, utterly unlike real life. Real life couldn't be this bewildering, he thought, it couldn't throw you together with characters as disturbing as the ones who'd been having their fun with him
       Yet there are also moments of hope, when he gathers himself together and believes he might be on top of things:
It promised to be a fine day, he was certain of it. He was no longer simply a vapid, weak, drab character, profoundly distressed by a sequence of events he couldn't understand. He was no longer just the Investigator. He was becoming a hero. He'd emancipated himself, he'd rebelled, he'd seized power he'd been denied.
       Well, maybe not .....
       Eventually, he does, sort of, gain some insight into the question of the suicides -- but also in the most unusual and not-entirely-satisfactory-for-his-purposes way .....
       Early on someone reminds him: "Everyone has a role, and your role is to be the Investigator, isn't it ?" and it is a role and identity he can't escape. As a Psychologist later points out to him, that's part of his problem:
You never use proper names, not for yourself or anyone else. Sometimes you add a numerical adornment -- you're number 14, you're number 93 -- but it comes down to the same thing.
       But that, of course, is part of the point; the Investigator's identity doesn't go beyond his role, or the numbers of the hotel rooms he inhabits. And the world he finds himself in is literally beyond him. As someone laughs down his flailing attempts at figuring it all out:
You like simplistic explanations, don't you ? These days I don't think that works anymore. The world is too complex. The old tricks are worn out. And besides, people are no longer children who can still be told tall tales.
       Claudel takes the 'Kafkaesque' premise and idea, and takes it to its extremes with his resolution. It ties it all up nicely enough, and as depiction of the individual as helpless pawn in the hands of an omnipotent power The Investigation is adequate enough. But it's neither neatly enough conceived, nor plain fun enough to truly satisfy. It's fine, but little more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 July 2012

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Links:

The Investigation: Reviews: Other books by Philippe Claudel under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Philippe Claudel was born in 1962.

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© 2012-2013 the complete review

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